In TV shows and movies, the typical divorce narrative is to portray women as celebrated victims. Meanwhile, men are depicted as silent sufferers who feel resentment, anger, depression and fear over lingering financial issues, relationship turmoil and worries over breaking up their families.
Off camera, the truth is that men don’t always have the tools — or the support — to deal with these very real concerns.
“Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, but it can be especially challenging for men who don’t typically express their feelings,” says David Blaylock, a LearnVest Planning Services certified financial planner™. “They want to keep their divorces private — and that’s not a good policy. You want a support system in place, just like any other major life change.”
Sure, the old adage is true: Time heals all wounds. But good advice helps too. The more men know about what to expect when they’re dissolving their marriages, the easier the process can be. So we consulted Bari Zell Weinberger, a matrimonial attorney at Weinberger Law Group, as well as Blaylock, for the key dos and don’ts of what men need to know about the financial side of divorce.
1. Do know the numbers
For an average divorce, Weinberger says you should expect to pay about no less than $20,000, which includes lawyers and experts, real estate costs to divvy up shared marital property, finding a second place for you to live, as well as financial advice and therapy for you or your children.
That said, the cost of a divorce can still vary — and widely.
For instance, says Weinberger, the price can increase exponentially if your divorce requires niche experts, like a forensic accountant or a co-parenting counselor. Other pricey scenarios: You need to get your business evaluated (your ex is entitled to equitable distribution if you launched the business during the marriage, and even if you started your business before you were married, a spouse may be entitled to part of the increase in the business’s value), you have high net worth and need a best-interest evaluation or you’re facing a hotly contested custody battle with your soon-to-be ex. All of these situations could bump the price of your divorce up to the $50,000 to $100,000 range, and in some cases much more, Weinberger estimates.
However, adds Weinberger, if a man comes to her office with a straightforward divorce — where all the terms have already been decided, and communication is open between the partners — then the cost could be as low as $3,500. In fact, if you have a particularly simple situation, with no minor children or unusual financial circumstances, a divorce can run less than $500, with filing fees, Blaylock adds.
According to Weinberger, one other crucial element that men — and women — who are parents should think about if they’re embroiled in extreme litigation: The more money you spend on your divorce, the less money you have to give your kids. “You’re taking your children’s [college] education savings,” she says, “and you’re kissing one semester goodbye.”
2. Don’t be too proud to pay alimony…
Alimony offers monetary help to the spouse who was supported financially during the marriage — especially if one parent left the workforce to focus on the family for a long period of time. Spouses usually provide alimony in one of three different ways, depending on state laws: As a lump sum, in regular payments, or in another predetermined arrangement — say, if you cut a check to a third party to pay an ex’s mortgage. (It’s also important to note that alimony is separate from child support.)
But the impact of alimony isn’t just financial — there’s also a psychological component. Men may feel that a former spouse doesn’t deserve to receive “free” income based on their hard work. Weinberger notes that many of her clients are resistant to paying because no one — man or woman — wants to have to write out a check to an ex.
Weinberger’s advice? “While no one wants to pay alimony, if we’re working out a global package, then it could make sense from a tax perspective,” she explains, adding that alimony is tax-deductible. (Just be sure to file a separate tax return using a 1040 form.)
3. …And don’t be too proud to collect alimony
If a woman is making more than her spouse or if the father is a stay-at-home parent while the mother works, then the ex-husband could be entitled to receive alimony. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 56 percent of divorce lawyers have seen an increase in mothers paying child support, and 47 percent have seen more women paying alimony, as well.
But being an alimony recipient can sometimes bring about feelings of insecurity, notes Weinberger. “I have men who say, ‘How is the community going to look at me?’” she says. “I tell them that they’re entitled. If they’re a stay-at-home dad or there is a large discrepancy in income, they should receive it.”
4. Do create a post-divorce life budget
When a man going through a divorce comes to David for financial planning advice, he sits him down to talk logistics. “We try to make a budget for his new life,” Blaylock says. According to Blaylock, men typically think about the money that they’ll have to pay upfront for divorce-related expenses — the actual divorce, child support, alimony — but forget that everyday expenses are going to change once they’re newly single.
For example, if you have joint custody, you’ll need things like clothes and toys so your kids can live comfortably in your house. Some co-parenting experts say that many kids who split the week between moms and dads actually prefer to have all of the items they need at each house, so they don’t lose anything in the transfer.
5. Do divide things equally
A half-half split is easier said than done — just because you’re getting divorced doesn’t mean that you won’t still feel tremendous attachment to your ex. Because of this, says Blaylock, many men (and women) cave to lopsided agreements — and this is often the case with men who are used to taking care of a spouse financially.
“A lot of men want to continue that role, even though they no longer have that obligation,” says Blaylock. “I just had a best friend go through this issue. He gave her everything, much to his financial detriment.” Dividing your property — furniture, artwork, camping gear, music equipment — should be done in a way so that you don’t end up with resentments or regrets. It’s O.K. not to let your ex have it all.
6. Do look into alternative child support solutions
Typically, child support covers basic necessities — food, clothing, shelter. Depending on how you arrange your settlement, it may also include uninsured medical expenses, educational fees, child care, transportation, travel, entertainment, college and extracurricular activities. Many arguments can erupt between ex-spouses over managing these costs.
“Children are expensive,” says Weinberger. And, unfortunately, all of those expenses may be tough, if not impossible, to itemize. “It’s never going to work out that Dad is going to feel secure that the child support is going to be applied directly to the child,” she explains. “I have so many dads who want everything identified with invoices, slips and statements. And they’re not going to get them.”
That’s why Weinberger advises her clients to come up with what she calls “hybrid” solutions. For instance, if you can pay a service provider directly, like a child-care provider, then you can avoid fighting over the money. One father I know, Weinberg recalls, even prepaid medical providers, as well as contributed to the mother’s share of their 529 plan.
7. Do set up a cellular plan
For children who are old enough, buy them a cell phone that’s designated for the sole purpose of contacting you. Call it the “Dad Phone,” and ask your ex to leave it in a spot where your child can always find it. Adding an additional line to your plan should be relatively inexpensive, though the cost will vary depending on your provider and whether or not you opt for a pricier smart phone.
8. Don’t make impulsive financial decisions
“Divorce is more like death than you can ever imagine,” says Blaylock. “It’s O.K. to be emotional. It’s O.K. to be hurt. It’s O.K. to grieve.” This is precisely why Blaylock urges men to treat their divorces with a sense of gravity — and not make any major financial decisions for six to 12 months. Don’t switch jobs. Don’t move to a new city. “Hold status quo in your life,” he says, “as you deal with this adjustment.