Help — I Can’t Afford a Divorce!
For some couples, divorce isn’t an option, and they would prefer “misery over weekly dollar-store shopping trips.”
Imagine this: Someone gives you a hot tip about a lucrative bet. They say you have a 50 percent chance of winning, but you also have a 50 percent chance of losing. Do you take it? For some, the possibility of reward is worth it. For others, the risk is just that — too risky.
This is the risk that all people in legal matrimony face. The divorce rate is currently roughly 50 percent. That means that for every couple who marries and makes it to “happily ever after,” there’s another couple who won’t. Though those numbers are well-known, I’d venture to say that it’s more nuanced than that. Those are just the documented numbers.
There are many couples who stay together, even after the last spark has gone out — often for practical reasons like wanting to keep their health insurance or not wanting to start over. In short, many couples stay together because they simply can’t afford a divorce.
I Can’t Afford a Divorce: Staying Together Because of Money
When you say “I do,” you don’t really imagine that one day it could all come to an end. But things can become sour. People change. Lives get hectic. The thread that kept you together slowly unravels.
After trying and failing, floundering and feeling like nothing is working, getting a divorce can seem like your only way out. But upon crunching the numbers, some couples find out how expensive that process is and realize that they can’t afford it.
“Many people stay in marriages they’d otherwise leave because they feel they can’t afford to divorce,” says relationship expert April Masini.
“What this usually means is that they don’t want to change or give up the lifestyle they’re accustomed to. So rather than downsize because divorce would require that in their circumstances, they stay in a marriage and either make peace with it or become bitter.”
How Does This Happen?
Being in a partnership can have many financial and legal benefits. You could potentially have two incomes, a higher savings rate, more support, better insurance — the list goes on. Especially if you have children, splitting that in half can mean taking on a whole different lifestyle, and in some cases, create a financial burden for one or both parties involved.
Attorney Todd A. Spodek of Spodek Law Group recently dealt with a divorce case that came to a halt once the couple crunched the numbers. “As we calculated the three children’s ongoing expenses and the needs of the family (for the mom), it became quite apparent that his monthly expenses would far exceed his current earnings,” he says.
The wife previously had a lucrative career, but became a stay-at-home mom to care for the three children. And while the husband made a good income, after looking at the numbers, he realized that it wasn’t enough.
“It was impossible for him to afford the costs in the aggregate, including everyone’s attorney’s fees, so he chose misery over weekly dollar store shopping trips,” he says.
What to Do When You Can’t Afford a Divorce
It can be a tricky dance to stay legally married because of finances while for all intents and purposes being apart. What are the rules? What are the boundaries?
Randall M. Kessler, author of Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids, and Your Future, says that a number of couples who would otherwise divorce stay together because of health care. In some cases, couples may make changes in every other area of their lives, but stay legally married for the benefits. “They often go ahead and divide their assets and things sometimes, and even at times have an understanding that they can date other people, but will stay married for the benefit of the health insurance,” Kessler says.
What Can You Do to Prevent This?
Regardless of where you are in your relationship, it’s important to have your own stash of cash so you can bounce any time you see fit.
If you’re not married yet, consider a prenup. If you are married, you may be able to get a postnup. Of course, that’s tricky to bring up, but if you’re realistic about the risks of marriage, it could protect you both.