I Didn’t Talk About Money in My Marriage. My Divorce Put Me $25,000 in Debt

A photo to accompany a story about Dasha Kennedy's tips for handling money after a divorce Photo Courtesy of Dasha Kennedy
Dasha Kennedy is a divorced mother of two and creator of The Broke Black Girl, an online platform that connects, educates and empowers women of color in the realm of personal finance.
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Divorce is expensive, conversations are cheaper. Believe me, I know this firsthand.

When I was 25, I was going through a divorce. I had two children under the age of ten and an apartment I couldn’t afford. Before I knew it, I had racked up $25,000 in debt.

I had purposely avoided financial conversations with my ex-husband as a way to avoid fights. Ultimately, I did discuss money with him—in court, while we were finalizing our separation. Our lack of communication or planning pushed us to divorce within one year of marriage. 

Immediately after, my household expenses increased while my household income decreased. That’s when I quickly accumulated $25,000 of consumer debt. I turned to payday loans, personal loans, and credit cards in an attempt to replace the loss of my husband’s income. I didn’t realize I depended on it so much, because it was never something we discussed. 

Luckily, I was able to pull myself out of debt by 29, and now I’m 33. The experience left me with this lesson: Failing to have conversations about money and marriage is a surefire way to find yourself discussing debt and divorce.

Divorce Is Harder for Women

Money is one of the most common causes of divorce, and the post-divorce income decline for women is vicious. The female poverty rate post-divorce is 27%, nearly triple the figure for men, according to the Institute for Social and Economic Research.

Women are more likely to give up their careers to tend to the immediate needs of the family and take the backseat to their financial security when married. They also have a longer life expectancy, lower wages, and fewer years in the workforce. Most will need to raise their income by at least 30% to increase their chances of economic survival post-divorce, according to the Center for Retirement Research.

One in four women will lose their health insurance during the divorce, according to the National Institute of Health.

The financial recovery rate for women post-divorce depends on two factors: the amount of money the woman earned and contributed to the day-to-day expenses prior to the divorce, and the willingness of the ex-spouse to be fair and transparent in splitting the finances and providing spousal and/or child support payments.

Divorce Is a Rollercoaster Ride

My ex-husband and I entered our marriage with a sense of individualism when it came to our finances. Our divorce dismantled a shared financial life we did not know existed. We did not participate in any financial planning, nor did we ever discuss money and debt management skills as a couple.

This is not to say that men do not worry about money or experience financial hardships as a result of divorce, but to highlight that in a time where women are expected to live longer with lower wages while being awarded custody of the children in most divorces, the financial impact of a divorce is very different.

Money was not a topic I was introduced to at an early age. I was born to two teenage parents. and as a child, I was aware that my parents worked together to provide for my siblings and me, but I didn’t know exactly what it really meant. By the time I was 15, I had already developed several poor financial habits that would follow me into adulthood. 

So if you’re finding yourself closer to divorce, first off remember that you are not alone. Here are some tips that helped me through my divorce.

Get involved and stay involved

In most marriages, the finances are usually handled by the primary breadwinner. Regularly discuss finances and money management with your spouse, and ask your spouse for full transparency when it comes to long-term financial planning like retirement, investment, and savings accounts. Knowing these important aspects of your finances can help you later should divorce be in the picture.

Pro Tip

No one gets married to get divorced. But if that’s the case, take time to add up your assets and liabilities. Create a new financial plan post-divorce that focuses on what your budgeting, saving, and investment practices should like now to make the most out of your new life.

Get Organized

If divorce is inevitable, get organized. Gather the important financial documents like tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, retirement accounts, titles, and any official documents that detail the household’s financial state and history. Create an up-to-date record and password-keeping system. It’s difficult to ask for what you want if you don’t know what you need. Assess the finances of the household to prepare a financial plan for yourself and your children. 

Divorce shouldn’t be the end all be all. Understand your needs.  The goal is to become fully aware of your options and understand the true value of your marital assets. It’s difficult to make a decision if you are unaware of exactly what you need to survive.

Do the Math

Expect your income to drop post-divorce. Figure out if you can support yourself and your children financially with the money you currently earn. This math should not include any funds to come, such as child support or spousal support post-divorce. 

One of the biggest mistakes that women make during a divorce is trying to hold on to things we can no longer afford because of the emotional attachment. Primarily, the family home. Once my divorce was over, I lost 50% of my household income and added on multiple new expenses, including childcare. I couldn’t take on a second job or work more hours so I decreased my living expenses by 46% by moving into a smaller apartment that I could afford with only my income. 

Rather than slide further into debt, downsize your lifestyle until you feel financially comfortable again. 

You probably won’t come out of the divorce with everything you want, so it’s best to prioritize what’s most important to you and choose your battles selectively. And don’t forget, you are not alone. You got this.