The costs of getting a divorce are staggering. The payouts which don’t end overnight or in a month can cripple you financially. It could be years before you get back on your feet.
For celebrities and members of the upper classes, they would gladly pay for expensive lawyers and financial trustees to rid themselves of a spouse that has proven to be more of a liability rather than an asset. It was good while it lasted, but people like to move on with their lives. They pick up the pieces and start anew.
When we think of the cost of divorce, our first impulse is to see dollars and cents dancing in our heads and we reel from the bills that land in our mailboxes. The financial picture can look as ugly as the divorce itself. But it’s not just the money that is the thorny issue. There’s another kind of cost that is equally staggering. And devastating.
That cost is the emotional toll on individuals who divorce. No wonder many of them come out of a divorce 100% different. Their sentiments and attitudes have taken a 360 degree turn so when they finally leave the courtroom or their lawyer’s offices, they can’t begin to comprehend what truly hit them.
Your heart goes out to the man in Alcoholics Anonymous who says that after the divorce, he lost everything his job, his wife and kids, his house and with bitterness, he says ‘I also lost me. Don’t know where I’ve been or where I’m going.’
Both the financial and psychological cost of divorce generate such a devastating outcome that will last a long time; you sometimes stop to think and ask the question, ‘was getting a divorce really worth it?’
Cost of Divorce: The Emotional Aspect
Can you imagine yourself being a changed person all because of a divorce? Change is probably too mild a word. Let’s try transformed or metamorphosed. Has the innocence of youth totally disappeared that you’ve lost trust in your fellow humans?
Focusing on the divorce itself tends to make us overlook the few years leading up to the divorce. Your emotions have been stretched a lot in that period of time. They’ve been stretched so much that they’ve lost their elasticity. You’ve tried your best, experimented with solutions, visited one counselor after another but your instincts tell you that the love and trust are no longer there and the marriage is over. You need to call it quits before there’s not a morsel left in you. You need to conserve the little that remains, because sadly, it’s all you’ve got to try to build on from scratch. Staying in the marriage will only deprive you of that tiny, tiny chance at finding happiness again.
In the meantime, do you know what’s happened to you, your soul and the elements that once defined you?
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the emotional cost of divorce is to look at a few examples of ‘wounded’ husbands and wives whose emotions had changed from the time they were newlyweds up to the time of their divorce.
Case # 1: Honey, I’ve got a headache.
HE: At first I said she was just tired and stressed from looking after the kids all day. But then she was beginning to refuse sex more frequently. This made me feel that I’m unattractive and have lost the ability to excite her. I mean, the point of getting married is to have one partner for life but my wife is unresponsive and is not interested in sex. Makes you wonder about the whole monogamy issue. Can’t she see I’m hurt by her constant refusal? Does she not love me anymore?
SHE: He expects me to be there ready for him. I feel he treats me more like a machine something he can turn on and off gets what he wants and turns his back when he’s done. I feel so cheap, so unloved that I’d rather refuse his advances than endure his mechanical lovemaking. I’m ready to throw in the towel. I prefer someone who’s less demanding physically.
Case # 2: Help, our bank account’s sinking!
SHE: I understand that it’s important to save for a rainy day. I agreed to be thrifty and I’ve been through years of self-deprivation. I work so it’s not as if I’m spending his money. I contribute to the household expenses but every time I buy a dress or a bottle of my favorite perfume, he makes me feel like I’ve lost all money sense and that I don’t care about our future. I resent the way he tries to make me save like he does. To me, money was meant to be saved and spent. I want to have more control over my money. He’s interfering in an area where he has no business interfering.
HE: I’m trying to emulate my dad. We weren’t very rich but because he saved consistently, he managed to provide for his family adequately, and my mother did not have to find work after he died. I see a lot of our friends who have since gone bankrupt because they always had to have the latest gadgets. All those cars, motorcycles, iPods, cell phones, pools, club memberships, eating out they’re all a drain on your savings. My wife believes in instant gratification. I keep telling her that’s the sure way to financial ruin. She’s totally ignorant about what our lives will be like when we retire and with escalating health care costs’
Case # 3: I’m not good enough for him. He criticizes my lack of knowledge and he says I’m an ignoramus
SHE: I feel like I’m under a microscope. He questions me as if I’m an underperformer in school. He forces me to read books I don’t enjoy and brings home magazines that he expects me to read so when he questions me, I can come up with a decent answer. He says he admires his female colleagues in the office who are lawyers. He calls me dumb blond when my hair isn’t even blond. He keeps taunting me with ‘you could have at least finished high school. You don’t even know what’s happening in the world.’ Then finally, the last straw was when he said he didn’t want our children to be as ignorant as me. That’s when I decided I was no longer going to take any verbal abuse from him he killed my spirit but I wasn’t going to let him kill what’s left of me.
HE: My wife is so lazy and lacking in ambition. Here we are living in one of the largest cities in North America and she won’t do anything to educate herself. Our community offers all kinds of self-improvement courses and I’ve told her time and again how important it is to learn new things so we could have a decent conversation. But she’s content being at home, caring for the kids. She won’t even pick up the newspaper. I was aware I was marrying someone who lacked a bit of initiative, what I didn’t know then was I marrying someone who was slothful.
From the three cases above, we can summarize the emotional cost of divorce thus:
Death of love and loss of respect, isolation, self-doubt, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, absence of trust, cynicism, intolerance, anger, bitterness and feelings of inadequacy.
Over time, if these psychological imbalances do not get the care and attention they need, the emotional cost of divorce could translate into medical costs as well. As an example, when one spouse falls into a depression, then psychological care will represent an added expense. When the fighting and the bickering drives someone to alcoholism or drugs, rehab costs should also be factored in.
Cost of Divorce: The Financial Aspect
Before you file your divorce papers, do think twice, thrice, four times. Talk to family members and friends. Find out how much their divorce set them back financially. When they tell you the numbers, you may want to re-consider.
Now, if you’re NOT prepared to re-consider and you do want to divorce, the cheapest possible way is the do-it-yourself divorce, but if you haven’t done any homework or due diligence, there’s a chance you could end up with the short end of the stick. If your spouse is more knowledgeable than you about issues such as alimony, child support and division of marital assets, you might not be getting your just part of the bargain.
Another alternative is the collaborative divorce where your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer try to finalize the divorce in the friendliest of terms.
What we mentioned does not really address the issue of how much it’s going to cost financially.
We’ll begin with the legal fees. This is where you realize that words aren’t cheap. Bear in mind that a lawyer will charge you not only on the number of minutes he talks to you in his office and on the phone, he will charge you for researching jurisprudence, administrative costs like stationery, courier services, court fees, filing fees, paralegal’s fees and others. In fact he could be billing more time without you than time with you. He has to write the proceedings, motions and affidavits.
Lawyers charge on an hourly basis, on a retainer basis or per package. Hourly fees in North America range from $100.00 to $250.00 higher in some cities. Retainer fees range anywhere from $8,000.00 to $12,000.00 depending on where you live, the specifics of your case and the lawyer’s hourly rate. Some provinces in Canada and states in the US can charge higher retainer fees. Keep in mind that if you choose to pay on retainer basis, a written retainer agreement must be drawn up.
Caution: if the retainer agreement stipulates surrendering title to your house or substantial cash assets for failure to pay legal fees, do NOT sign the retainer agreement! In other words, don’t give up anything you CAN’T afford to lose.
Financial costs do not end in the lawyer’s office, unfortunately.
Your properties: the properties and assets acquired during the marriage may now only represent 50% of their original value to you. If the divorce agreement calls for a 50-50 split, you automatically lose 50% of the total value.
Personal effects like furniture, clothes, knick knacks, collectibles and cars are usually evaluated on a ‘garage sale’ basis, so you and your spouse can agree who gets what.
As for the house, the spouse with primary custody usually stays in the house with the children; or if the house is no longer affordable to either spouse, you can both decide to sell it and split the proceeds equally.
Other costs to consider:
Depending on who gets to keep the house, the following will be have to be included into the cost equation:
- Mortgage and interest payments
- Property taxes
- Maintenance costs
- School and water taxes
Also, you may want to ask your lawyer how each spouse’s retirement plans, 401(k) plans (US) and RRSPs (Canada) and other pension benefits and plans should be divided.
Add: children’s expenses: tuition, medical and health bills, recreational activities, baby sitters, special care (if psychologists are hired to help the children through the divorce), vacations and other expenses.