The Real Cost of Divorce for Women

Divorce doesn't just break your heart; it can leave you broke.

Here's the sad truth: Divorce doesn't just break your heart; it can leave you broke.

When married, women's median weekly earnings are about 20 percent higher than women who are divorced, separated, widowed or who have never been married, reports US News and World Report based on figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Married women even have the edge on single men, earning almost 10 percent more than them, too.

But after divorce, a woman's financial profile plummets, falling by 41 percent, on average, nearly twice the income loss of divorced men, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

According to research by Stephen Jenkins, a professor at the London School of Economics, men, on the other hand, see their incomes rise more than 30 percent post-divorce.

The pay gap is partly to blame. In heterosexual marriages where both the man and woman are employed, the man out earns the woman 77.8 percent of the time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the divide is not entirely accounted for by the difference in earning power between men and women so much as it is the pay disparity for the unpaid labor of parenting.

The main reason women bear the brunt of divorce's financial devastation, according to Jenkins, is that during the marriage, they are more likely than men to leave their careers to raise kids. "The key differences are not between men and women, but between fathers and mothers," he tells The Guardian.

Having stepped off the corporate ladder for a number of years, these child-rearing women may not have advanced as far in their careers as their spouses who didn't take off, leaving them less developed workplace skills and holes on their resumes.

"The dynamic is changing a little as more women are staying in the workforce and continuing and accelerating their careers," Nicole Mayer, a certified divorce financial analyst, and partner at financial planning firm RPG Life Transition Specialists tells US News and World Report, "but typically, divorce hits women harder than men."

And that's not even counting the bill of the divorce itself. According to Divorce Magazine, the cost of divorce can range from as little as $8,500 to over $100,000 for lawyers and legal fees. But if the split is amicable and you can take the DIY divorce route, you might be looking at a tab closer to the cost of an airline flight — from $200 to $500.

Remember: if the divorce isn't done yet, the price tag for lawyering up need not fall only on you, a divorce lawyer in Boston tells The Atlantic: "If someone calls me and says, 'I need an attorney but I have no money,' I remind them they're not divorced yet, so they actually do have money. In those cases, I file a motion asking for retaining fees and the other person's lawyer will cut a check."

In fact, in all divorce matters, it's important to remember your legal rights. Here's a big one: if you didn't sign a prenuptial agreement, and you live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, you're entitled to half of any assets acquired during the marriage. Those are joint assets to be divided equally. Even if your name isn't on the deed to the house, half of it is rightly yours.

You may have let your emotions get the better of you when you were falling in love, but don't let them cloud your judgment here at the end. The objective is to not let the pain of the breakup lead to further financial distress. Marie Claire found that women who wanted to "get it over with," experienced guilt over the end of the relationship, and those who trusted their exes to make good on promises once the divorce was finalized suffered financially.

"The silver lining [to divorce] is that most women feel much more confident, much more in control of their finances after the divorce than before," Natalie Colley, an analyst at financial planning firm Francis Financial tells US News and World Report. "That's because they're finally the ones in control of their finances."

"You always assumed there'd be two of you and maybe two 401(k)s and two IRAs, and that's now all changed," Mayer says. "So now it's really [about] updating your picture as a whole, your long-term picture."

And that can be a beautiful new image. It's time to start imagining your post-divorce dream.

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