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Women and Divorce: 6 Unpleasant Financial Surprises

Kimberly Foss, CFP®, CPWA®

Sr. Wealth Advisor


6 essentials to consider before filing for divorce, compiled for women by a female wealth advisor.

Young woman with braids

Divorce can be devastating in many ways — emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. Many have experienced not only the loss of not only one’s confidant and apparent life partner, but also surprise when one discovers that this “soul mate” isn’t at all the person they appeared during courtship or the honeymoon phase. Stakes are often even higher for women: men’s household income is reduced about 23% on average after a divorce, while women’s income typically declines by 41%1 — nearly double the rate.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many women report unanticipated financial consequences that could have been mitigated or eliminated with better awareness and planning. Before filing for divorce, take stock of your current financial picture to help avoid any unpleasant surprises. These can often include:


Not being aware of all shared debt.

Debt can include not only mortgages, car loans, and credit cards, but also Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs), loans against retirement accounts or 401(k) plans, and student loans. It’s important to be aware of division of both assets and debts during divorce. It’s especially important for all women, especially those contemplating divorce, to understand both the type and size of household debts.


Not anticipating a need to return to the workforce.

Many women in this modern era not only choose to stay at home, but also cede most or all financial decisions to their spouses. Many women face difficult adjustments after a long hiatus from the working world in the event that they must find post-divorce employment.


Overestimating the amount of child support and/or alimony.

Especially in cases where the husband makes the majority of the household income and handles finances, a lack of understanding of living costs can easily catch the lower-earning (or non-working) wife by surprise. The largest breadwinner will typically try to whittle down the amount of payments to the ex-spouse. It is essential for women to go into the process with realistic expectations, accurate knowledge of household finances, and excellent legal representation.


Not realizing the marital home may be sold by — or retained by — the ex-husband.

It is by no means certain that the ex-wife will keep the house, especially in situations where assets must be liquidated to satisfy household debt. Women contemplating divorce should have an accurate understanding of the appraised value of (and debts against) the home. It is often in one’s best interest to pay for an independent home appraisal.


The cost of health insurance.

The expense of obtaining health insurance usually comes with massive sticker shock, especially for women who have been out of the workforce and been covered by a husband’s plan during the span of the marriage. It’s wise to investigate this early to get the best deal possible.


Underestimating divorce process costs.

Let’s face it: lawyers are expensive. The legal price tag can become pretty significant when children are involved, and especially when the marital estate is complex, so advance research is highly recommended. Women need to know what they’re likely to pay for the legal process to be prepared with adequate financial resources.

As financial planners and advisors, we counsel women in transition, including those contemplating or going through divorce. An experienced financial advisor can help you anticipate problems, ask the right questions, and develop a strategy that can successfully help deliver you to the other side of the divorce crucible.

1 American Academy for Certified Financial Litigators, “Impact of Divorce on the Finances of Men, Women, and Children,” January.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is the parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements.

All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the research and ratings shown in this presentation come from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors. Content, research, tools and stock or option symbols are for educational and illustrative purposes only and do not imply a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell a particular security or to engage in any particular investment strategy. For financial planning advice specific to your circumstances, talk to a qualified professional at Mercer Advisors.

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