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The 6 Nasty Financial Surprises for Divorcing Women

A new survey explores women's financial priorities before and after divorce


An astounding 46 percent of divorced women recently surveyed by the online marketplace Worthy said that divorce brought with it financial surprises. I’m a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and collaborated on that survey, and I can report that the women I work with who are getting divorced often tell me they, too, have run into nasty financial surprises resulting from the experience.

In the Worthy study, Building a Financial Fresh Start, 1,785 adult women were surveyed across three stages: those with divorce “on the horizon,” those in the midst of divorce and those who described themselves as “divorced and determined.” Some 22 percent of the women were 55 or older; most of those were already divorced.

In my practice, the six nasty surprises divorcing and divorced women often encounter during their divorce proceedings are:

  • Being unaware of the total size of their marital debt including the primary mortgage, home equity line of credit, auto financing, credit card debt, 401(k) loans and student loans
  • Not anticipating they would have to return to the workforce
  • Assuming child support and/or alimony would be higher or last longer
  • Assuming they could keep the marital home
  • The staggering cost of health care insurance
  • Underestimating the cost of getting a divorce

When the survey participants were asked if they had experienced any “financial surprises” during divorce, 38 percent of women 55 and over replied they had. While this result is not something to cheer about, it was significantly lower than the younger age groups, in which nearly half said they had experienced such surprises.

Before initiating divorce settlement negotiations, it is imperative that women know their net worth as a couple and can quantify joint and separate expenses. Women who stay in the dark financially during their marriage will find life after divorce more difficult than it has to be.

Financial Roles and Responsibilities During Marriage

To better understand the impact divorce has on women’s finances, the survey asked women about their financial role while married. Some abdicated to their husbands all financial responsibilities (such as earning money and managing the household’s bills and investments). Surprisingly, younger women were more likely to abdicate control of all financial matters to their husbands than older ones. While 18 percent of the women 55 and over had relinquished financial control to their husbands while married, that was significantly less than the approximately 23 percent of the women between 18 and 54 who had.

But after a divorce, women must take responsibility for all household functions including earning money, saving and investing for the future and paying bills. By sharing responsibility for all these functions while married, women will have a better shot at maintaining the same financial standard of living after divorce.

Financial Fears and Future Focus

Across all age groups, the majority of women surveyed said their biggest financial fear regarding divorce was living on one income. No. 2: the cost of divorce.

However, there was a big difference among age groups when we asked the women about their future financial focus. Only a sizable portion of the 55+ age group (38 percent) was materially concerned about retirement, twice as high as the millennials. Similarly, 22 percent of the boomer women had a primary focus over the next five years on building their investment portfolio, compared with only 12 percent of Gen X women and less than 10 percent of millennial women.

Women today are living longer than ever, so I advise divorcing women and divorced women to get educated about investing. That will help decrease the possibility that they outlive their money. Some may have to decrease their expenses or increase their earning potential in order to contribute to an investment or retirement account each year.

Ironically, despite the boomer women’s focus on retirement planning and investing, 72 percent of them did not view their previously-worn engagement ring as a financial asset. They were unaware that selling their ring could give them cash to invest and supplement their retirement savings.

Nice to know divorce can bring at least one pleasant financial surprise.

Laurie Itkin
By Laurie Itkin
Laurie Itkin is a financial adviser, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) and author of the Amazon bestseller, Every Woman Should Know Her Options: Invest Your Way to Financial Empowerment. You can sign up for her monthly newsletter at The OptionsLady.com.

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