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Divorce is a Full-Time Job (but COSTS That Much, Too)

It is important to be TRULY, FULLY, DEEPLY sure about getting a divorce, because the process is wildly time-consuming. For months after deciding to separate from marriage — usually for a year, at least — you’re saddled with new tasks that take as many hours a week as a full-time job.

Given this, one piece of advice I’d give to anyone embarking on divorce is to be realistic about how much time it takes, and to adjust your day job accordingly when possible, to provide time so that you don’t utterly burn out. But wait — here’s the problem: divorce is also expensive, so you’ll NEED that money from work, meaning that you can’t cut down hours too much.

Divorce is a full time job!
Divorce takes time and money!

This paradox of needing both extra time AND extra money to enact divorce means that your year of marriage separation logistics may require dipping into savings, and/or borrowing money when possible. Now, I say this (and am writing this article) to give a realistic heads-up — not to deter people from making this important life transition if it’s needed. As I explained in “What to Say to Someone Going Through Divorce,” separation can absolutely be for the best. You just have to be eyes-wide-open about what you’re getting into.

Before I go into the details of why divorce takes so much time and money, here’s some context. I was married for ten years, and have no regrets about either the marriage, or about the decision to divorce. As my co-parent and I concluded from years of counseling and pondering, the separation is 100% the correct decision, and we are going about it in a way to best support our kids and to build a strong and better future.

That said, I want to honestly enumerate what I mean by the sentence, “Divorce is a full-time job — yet costs as much as one,” so that if you’re embarking on this journey (or know someone who is), you can understand some of what’s involved in order to be prepared. Let’s dive in.

Things changing like seasons.
Things changing…

Why Divorce Is So Much Time and Money

1. Family logistics and support for children.

If children are involved in marriage separation, that is obviously going to be your #1 concern. This takes an enormous amount of bandwidth in terms of deciding how to tell kids about divorce, figuring out living situations and custody agreements, and making sure emotional and mental supports are in place.

I’ll be going more in-depth about this in future articles, but for now, I can share that the family adjustments with our kids are going far better than expected, yet it’s a life-long effort that shifts by the month, and requires ongoing attention.

2. Separating all the shared accounts!

You don’t realize how intertwined your accounts have become with someone you live with until it’s time for one of you to move out. My co-parent and I made a spreadsheet of all the accounts that needed to be dealt with or transferred when he got his own apartment. Can you guess how many accounts were on that list? FORTY.

Forty $%#*! separate accounts — each of which needs full login changes, calls to customer support, errors managed, and so on. But here’s the kicker: for the majority of utilities, bills, and accounts, you cannot simply change the login email and hand it off to the other person; we tried that and it failed.

Instead, you must call, wait on hold, be transferred to multiple agents, then have them do an elaborate dance of creating a whole new account, deactivating the old account, and transferring the details into the new one — often with a flurry of papers to sign and secret codes being sent by text and email. This dance can last weeks for a single account’s transfer, because one step can’t be done without another, and each requires time.

I was spurred to write this article because I am now eleven months into the divorce process, and still spending hours upon hours managing these transfers. This morning alone, I spent FOUR straight hours on the phone with: 1) Water and sewer bill agents, 2) Two different banks, and 3) Two different insurance companies. I will probably do the same next week as well, since one of the key customer service agents was experiencing a computer glitch and needs me to call back again when it’s functional.

Now here’s what really freaks me out: There have been a number of account transfers (my divorce credit card saga, for example) in which I was completely blocked from moving forward because the account was in the man’s name, and I had zero powers or voice around it. If our separation hadn’t been amicable, I would be in even more of a bind.

Given this, if you are reading this article and haven’t yet started the divorce process, my advice is to install yourself as an official user on as many accounts as you can. This won’t be possible for items like the electric bill, which can only have one person, but for bank accounts that you stand to take over, becoming an authorized user with signing powers could eliminate a number of headaches.

Another tip is that if a bank account’s balance is zero, it’s easier to shut down, and you may not need to have both parties show up in person. If you can be on the same page as the other party in moving the funds elsewhere from shared accounts, you both can save time.

We wish money grew on trees, because there are a lot of them around here!
We wish money grew on trees, because there are a lot of them around here!

3. Asset divisions, and the home.

Here is a vitally important (and jarring) fact: in a “community property state” like Massachusetts, all assets and debts amassed during married years are considered to be owned 50-50 by both spouses — even if they’re just yours, and you were the only one who got them. I cannot stress enough how terrifying the implications of this are, for women especially.

Your 401k? Your spouse has a right to half of those savings, even though you did all the earning. Your business that you started during marriage? The spouse can take half. Your home and car? Your spouse owns half.

I have never in my life been more of a proponent for prenuptial agreements, after seeing so many strong, successful women have their hard-earned assets taken away upon divorce. Protect yourself with a prenup, even if you think the marriage you are entering is rock-solid!

I am extremely thankful that our separation has been amicable, but it doesn’t mean there haven’t still been months and months of conversations, mediations, and calculations about how to divide everything: from the home itself, to the coffee tables, to the bank accounts. Yes, we had to make spreadsheets for all those decisions as well — and in total they’ll take over a year to resolve.

As for what happens with the home itself, that’s nothing short of central. I found the month around my co-parent moving out to be the #1 most stressful part of all the divorce logistics; it’s such a fraught endeavor — especially after a full decade of living together, and with kids involved! Thankfully, everything felt much easier once this transition was successfully achieved.

Emotions aside, what of the money aspect? If you move out, there’s a massive time and money suck right there as you set up a new home: arranging for movers, transporting furniture and boxes, and buying a whole slew of new items like baking sheets, chairs, and toothbrush holders that you once took for granted.

How about the financial impact if you stay in the original home? Please know that the money owed to buy out a co-owner is stratospheric in this economy. Why? Because home prices across the country have skyrocketed, you must calculate the equity accrued over the years, and compensate accordingly. The time morass here is in hammering out the nebulous appraised home value to ascertain exact buy-out numbers, factoring in any jointly owned furniture that is taken, or will remain.

Now, our property division could have been extremely contentious, but I took the philosophy of singer George Straight in his country song, “Give It Away,” — “Ain’t nothin in this house worth fightin’ over… Oh, and we’re both tired of fightin’ anyway — so just give it away.” Yes, there are some things which are worth putting your foot down and getting at all costs, but ultimately your happiness and the ability to move on to the next chapter are worth any price.

Money and time are worth it to spend for things that are the right next step.
Money and time are worth it to spend for things that are the right next step.

4. Divorce paperwork and lawyers.

The government REALLY does not want you to get divorced. As our counselor said, “Once you signed that marriage certificate, you brought the state into your relationship.” As a result, divorce paperwork is simply insane — almost laughably so.

For example, there is a financial form in which you need to itemize how much money you spend per week on every minute detail of life: from laundry to haircuts. The very fact that all parts of the form require weekly figures means that you’ll spend hours with a calculator dividing numbers by 4.3, since most normal bills are monthly. Exciting new applications of math skills!

We finally filed our divorce paperwork last month (after nearly a year of working on it with lawyers and mediators and on our own), and it ended up being something like 65 pages and 8 different documents in total. Then it got rejected for a typo, so we had to submit it again. Then it got rejected for 15 (!) new edits needed, so we had to submit again. Another friend’s paperwork got rejected because on page 7 she left a line blank instead of putting a zero. My advice: Re-read and edit until your eyes become bloodshot, or you’ll have to do it all again.

So here’s the timeline: It took about a year to get our divorce paperwork in, then next we wait 6 months for a court date. If the judge approves our divorce, we then have to wait an additional 120 days for it to be finalized. How long does a divorce take? How much time in total? Bank on two years, though by some miracle you might do it closer to one.

What about lawyer costs, with all this paperwork? In fact, lawyers ended up being less expensive overall than I feared (my biggest divorce expenses came in other places, such as the condo buy-out and losing the car), but they still cost a ton. For example, lawyers charge for simply answering emails, so one tip is to bundle questions all together in each email, because many lawyers won’t charge for less than 12 minutes at a time, and each hour is hundreds of dollars — so it’s better to send an email that takes them a full 15 minutes instead of one.

Building new homes after divorce.
Building new homes after divorce.

5. Time and money of learning to 100% run a household.

If you’re married or live with roommates with whom you share house tasks, you already understand this point. For the money aspect: Changing from living together, to one party moving out, means paying double on all home expenses from what you’re used to (unless you magically find a new roommate immediately). The mortgage kind of stings now, eh? And ooh, those full-priced heating and insurance bills…

As for the time aspect: almost all co-habitators I know begin over time to take on certain responsibilities, while totally handing off others — and this means that when one moves out, there is a radical learning curve to make up for knowledge deficits. Did I spend entire days figuring out how to fix the speakers and water filter and insurance and vacuum and dishwasher and so on? Sure did.

The good news is that there are people and videos to help, and there’s a euphoric sense of accomplishment in conquering these responsibilities that one has shirked for so long. It just takes a while to get them under your belt — and costs money if you pay someone for professional assistance.

Of course, if you have kids, this household rebalancing item circles back to #1: learning to parent solo for whatever percentage of time your custody agreement provides. It took my kids and I about three months for us to work out these new systems of running a household of three — and it’s all certainly still a work in progress!

6. Brain fog and reorienting.

In the early stages of divorce, a brain fog is common. At that time, I was still working as a teacher, and despite having taught for 18 years, I could barely think through what to write on the board, or how to correct a paper. My mind had become utterly overrun with confusion. Tasks that should have taken five minutes took days. I felt like I was submerged in water, and the world was sideways, as my body struggled to process the monumental life transition.

In this later stage of divorce, as we’re now set up in functional separate households and paperwork has been filed, time is needed to build the next chapter. Creating a refreshed social web of friends, loved ones, activities, and support takes focus and intentionality. Self-care like adding more exercise, therapy (see my post on walk and talk therapy), and daily meditation requires hours a month, but is paramount. Oh, and picking up extra jobs for the money needed for divorce takes time, too!

Saving Time and Money in Divorce

Want to save time and money in a divorce? Unfortunately, it will probably take a lot of each, no matter what, but my #1 tip to reduce the costs is let go of what you can let go of. Hit the “easy button” wherever and whenever possible. Good models for this abound in one of the best divorce books I read, Conscious Uncoupling.

In the book, the author gives numerous examples of how choosing generosity and kindness pays off beautiful dividends in the long run. One example: Opting for financial and logistical generosity towards your former partner avoids months upon months of expensive lawyer battles, thus saving those fees, while building essential good-will.

If kids are involved, always focusing on what’s best for the children during the transition can help with this. For instance: it’s not that you’re giving your former spouse money for the divorce settlement — it’s that you’re providing a strong financial foundation in both homes for your kids.

“Hitting the easy button” also means kindness and generosity to yourself. Where can you spend a little money to buy time and save headaches? The year of divorce may be the time to dip into savings to pay for more meals delivered, or to cut down hours at work.

Conversely, where you can you carve out extra time to save money by making healthy life shifts? For example, I quit drinking alcohol during the marriage separation process so that I could learn to really be in touch with what my body was feeling and needing. It took time and effort, but has been one of the kindest things I could have done for myself — and saves a bunch of money, too.

Surmounting the mountain of divorce.
Surmounting the mountain of divorce.

The Importance of Others

Throughout this whole process, find as many people as you can who’ve gone through similar divorce journeys, or are on them at the moment, too. In addition to providing emotional support (and a good, wry laugh or ten), this can prove invaluable in learning what mistakes to avoid — thus saving time and money.

Divorce Costs, in Sum

Yes, divorce costs a boatload of money, and takes as many hours as a full-time job — but for many, myself included, it is still 100% worth it. Think about the marriage separation process as moving to another country: it’s a huge effort to set up fresh, and everything will be different — but if it’s a place you know you want to go, you’ll make it work.

So what about you? What are your thoughts on the time and money divorce requires? Do share!

See all my compiled divorce stories for the full collection.


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