Financial Challenges of Divorce: Why People Stay Married
- The financial repercussions of divorce can involve significant income loss and lifestyle change for many couples.
- Sometimes the fear of the financial repercussions of divorce stops couples from proceeding to divorce, despite the emotional consequences of staying together.
- A qualified relationship counsellor or psychologist can help you work through their choices, make clearer decisions and understand the consequences of their decisions.
Divorce comes with serious financial consequences – assets need to be split, a second household needs to be funded and there may be the issue of child welfare payments. For most couples, the financial repercussions of divorce or separation are a hugely scary and stressful consideration, and what is more, these fears are usually entirely warranted and reasonable. Research studies consistently show that women and children experience substantial financial declines upon divorce (1). Furthermore, research demonstrates that divorced Australians are much more likely to experience material hardships and to report having a lower level of prosperity than the married and never-divorced (2). So it is no wonder that many couples avoid the fear of financial stress and the accompanying lifestyle change of divorce, and stay married – even if emotionally they believe a divorce would be a healthier step for them and their family.
Elsa married when she was 24. Her husband, Don, made a good living but after 10 years of marriage Elsa felt like she and Don had little in common except their children, who were six and four years old.
Elsa had a university degree in physiotherapy but since the arrival of her children she had only ever worked part-time a couple of days a week. She and Don had decided that she would be around to care for the kids as much as possible and as money wasn’t an issue she had only worked to stay abreast of professional developments. Now that Elsa and Don were contemplating a divorce, Elsa began to realise that she wouldn’t be able to afford to work part-time if her and Don split up. Even with his ongoing childcare payments, she would need to find a way to meet the mortgage repayments or give up the house – a thought she did not relish, especially as it would mean even more change for the children. She realised that divorce would mean a return to full-time employment, which in turn would require full-time childcare. This was not the life she envisaged for her children or herself. She realised divorce would have a massive impact on her financial security and her lifestyle, and these thoughts filled Elsa with anxiety and trepidation – she honestly wasn’t sure how she would cope.
Faced with all of these daunting consequences and the fear of financial stress, Elsa decided that all things considered, she would just have to find a way to accept being married to Don, even if they weren’t particularly happy together.
WHY DOES DIVORCE EQUAL FINANCIAL LOSS?
The sad reality is that it is less expensive for two people to live together than apart. And for couples lucky enough to have a combined income, the financial benefits are even greater. Often, they are better able to afford a home, have investments and an established financial history. When they divorce, all of these assets are subject to being split and the overall effect is lower income and a lesser lifestyle for everyone.
For these reasons, the financial repercussions of divorce can be significant and substantial. These challenges can be especially discouraging for women who, more often than men, are the ones who earn less or who have forgone full-time employment during the marriage. For men, the idea of losing half of their assets, particularly if they are self-employed, can be demoralising.
WHAT ARE THE EMOTIONAL CONSEQUENCES OF STAYING MARRIED?
Even if your finances do not support a separation or divorce, you need to consider the emotional and psychological consequences of staying in an unhappy marriage. Whether you are fighting all the time, or uncommunicative with your partner, living like that can lead to negative emotional reactions for you and your children – you might become depressed, overly anxious, withdrawn or angry, and so may your kids.
Depression is a common result of anger turned inward because we do not feel like we can express that anger in any acceptable way. In this particular situation, we may be angry that we feel like we must remain married even if we are unhappy, simply because we cannot afford to leave the relationship.
Resentment is another common emotional response of feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage. Resentment may be felt towards your partner, or even your kids (because it may be the financial prospect of caring for them that makes the financial burden of divorce unmanageable.
HOW CAN COUNSELLING HELP?
A psychologist or counsellor can help you work through all of the emotional and practical pros and cons of separation and divorce – and they can do this with your spouse, or without. Counselling can help you understand your emotions and your fears, and help you consider and address the consequences of your actions – whether you decide to stay married or not. Working within the safe confines of a counselling session, you will have the freedom to express any feelings of anger, distress, worry, fear or resentment you might have about your situation and find a way to make peace with those feelings.
One of the benefits of working with a counsellor is that they can act as an objective sounding board. They can help you with observations and suggestions that you might not have considered because they have a perspective from outside of the marriage. In this way, counselling with a professional relationship counsellor or psychologists might help you make the decision to proceed with a divorce, or it might help you deal with the emotional consequences of staying together. Either way, it can help to give you comfort and clarity during a confusing and stressful time.
HOW CAN I GET HELP WITH MY RELATIONSHIP OR MARRIAGE?
If you or someone you know is contemplating separation or divorce, a relationship counsellor, psychologist or couples therapist may be able to help. They can help you understand your choices, provide you with an avenue for expressing your feelings and deal with the emotional consequences of your relationship choices.
Contact Associated Counselors & Psychologists Sydney for more information.
Teachman & Paasch (1994). Financial Impact of Divorce on Children and Their Families. The Future of Children February 1994, 4(1), 63-83.
de Vaus, Greay, Qu & Stanton (2003). The consequences of divorce for financial living standards in later life. Australian Institute of Family Studies 2007.