I was 15 when my parents separated. And as the hormonally imbalanced, entitled teenager I was, I made life quite difficult for both of my parents and one new step-mother. I genuinely believed the world (yes, the whole world – I was dramatic) was against me and I was the only child who had ever been dealt this terrible hand. Oh how very wrong was I, but that isn’t the point of this blog. Well, not today anyway.
As a broken family, we struggled to find our new normal and despite the hurt and wounds which sill weep from time to time, I look back on it with gratefulness – grateful because it gave me the spoonful of concrete I needed to toughen up. It led me down a path I wouldn’t have otherwise found if my silver spoon was still around, and in the end my ensuing roller coaster journey with money became my cruel but necessary teacher. And that, is the point of this blog.
Divorce, separation, conscious uncoupling – doesn’t matter which way you package it, it’s still the same beast with a dramatic effect on money. And not just because it’s halved or shared differently, but because it’s innately complex and tends to have the ability to draw out the worst in people.
I have spoken about my (unconfirmed) psychological assessment of my relationship with money and where I think this has stemmed from – my parents. My dad was pretty bad with money and loved all the things. Before the Kardashians, I think it was called “keeping up with the Jones’”. We had big waterfront houses, fancy cars, jet skis and all the gadgets as kids. We truly wanted for nothing.
My mum stopped working when she met my dad and stayed at home to raise children for 15 years. I don’t know how the household finances were managed, but I think living in naivety was easier for mum than dealing with the fact that living on credit was a dangerous place to be.
And as the court battles for child support ensued, my brother and I left everything we knew – emotionally and financially. We moved into a much smaller home with mum, who went back to work and controlled the money within an inch of her life. We went from parents throwing cash, to parents hoarding it. It was a very confusing time, and not because we wanted the “things” back but because for our whole life our financial role models spent money. That’s all we knew. Money habits, what were they?
I know that they both did the best they could, but does hindsight tell us we could have handled it differently? Handled it better? Sure. There isn’t a textbook on divorce – a ‘right’ way to handle it, and in the case of my mum, sometimes it means finding your new purpose, the new you as a single parent, with half the cash and half the help.
I’m not an expert and I am almost counting on opposing opinions (and I welcome them all), because like pregnancy, no two divorces or separations or conscious uncouplings are the same. It’s a fact. So how do you deal with the financial fall out whilst minimising all the other crap you have to deal with? Here are my thoughts…as a child from a broken family.
(Where possible) Try not to engage with lawyers
When you look at separation and divorce as a battle, this mentality will almost always ensure that no one wins in the end. And whatever pain you’re grieving from, it will only be amplified. Trust me. No matter how many lawyers you engage, and how far you take it down the legal path, you’re going to be left with an agreement that’s more or less even anyway (source: lawyer hubby). So instead of paying five-figure sums (and sometimes more) in legal fees, do your best to swallow your pride and shelve the hate. I know this is hard, really f*cking hard in fact. But for the time being, do what you can to protect your pennies from court proceedings and lawyers, and try to line your own back pocket instead.
Don’t fight about money in front of your kids…or pets…or just at all
When a family unit or relationship breaks down, the emotional fall out can be catastrophic, and sometimes leave a lasting imprint for future relationships to come. That’s unless of course you’re Gwyneth and Chris who seem to co-parent, co-lunch and co-date without breaking a sweat!
That’s why minimising any hurt or discomfort should be a priority of both parties, with or without children involved. This isn’t something my parents did particularly well and to be honest, became the narrative of every conversation for years after their separation.
Money is a thing – don’t let it define your relationship or value the time you had together. Removing any personal or emotional attachments to money will make sure the separation is fair and amicable.
Use the opportunity to downsize
The thought of packing, moving, and selling a bunch of crap on gumtree still gives me nightmares. And this was just relocating – this didn’t include a bucket of crappy heart ache or two kids nipping at my feet!
I remember watching the removalists pack our things into the truck as we moved to our new, smaller house, with less stuff and a few less smiles too. Initially, everything about it sucked. And as a 15 year old, you can only imagine the tantrums. But looking back, it was the best opportunity for mum to cleanse herself of the crap, the hurt, the things associated with a relationship that no longer existed and begin her new life, on her own.
I’m a big believer in financial minimalism (Read: Why financial minimalism is the “new black”), and whilst I don’t suggest breaking up a relationship to find it, I do think it’s a brilliant remedy for fighting off the post-relationship money blues and finding your new pathway to financial freedom.
Fearless Female Traders