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How do I handle financial stress after the divorce?

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One of the most relatable and troubling elements of this ongoing government shutdown is how it's affecting everyday families. Hearing about federal government employees going without paychecks, and how they're having to cope with that loss of income, has made many of us wonder what would happen if we were in their shoes.

Even those people who don't live paycheck to paycheck can still be greatly affected by a surprise event like a government shutdown putting an income stream on pause. In family law, we see people experience the stress that comes with a different kind of disruption to income - namely, from divorce.

When a married couple divorces, they often go from being one two-income household to two one-income households - meaning they're no longer sharing mortgage or rent expenses, and each have to maintain their own household accounts. That often results in an increase in each person's out-of-pocket expenses.

A parent required to pay child support suddenly has a court-ordered expense which may come directly out of a paycheck, and though it's scaled to that parent's income, it's still a significant item to budget for.

Divorce also alters retirement plans, which a married couple often predicates on living together and having a house paid for by the time they stop working. Depending on the divorce settlement, some retirement accounts may stay intact for the person paying into it, though some may have to be liquidated to satisfy the decree's determination of how assets are split up.

We recommend, even before the divorce is final, that a person getting divorced should create a new monthly budget reflecting his or her new reality. We give our clients this worksheet to help them factor in all the categories they should thinking about. Determining what money is coming in and out allows a person to make realistic choices about keeping a house awarded to him or her in the divorce.

It also will give a person better perspective on what to ask for in the decree. For example, if a woman getting divorced has only been working part-time, and needs to ramp up to full-time work, it might be possible to negotiate temporary spousal support allowing for education or training to be eligible for such a job.

A budget can also help put priorities into perspective. A person might not be able to immediately afford everything on a wish list right after a divorce, might need to bargain hunt to get a cheaper phone plan or find an alternative to a pricy cable package.

If a divorcing couple has children, though, it's also important for both parents to discuss the children's priorities before the divorce is final. If a child is involved in a sport or other activity that involves a substantial outlay of funds, sharing the expense should be part of the decree conversation, and figuring out how to pay for it needs to be part of the budgeting process. It's obviously best to avoid the dispute that can result from one parent feeling the other parent isn't paying his or her fair share for a child.

In the meantime, try not to incur credit card debts or other quick-fix solutions to pay for expenses. Those can create additional expenses in the long run and can make it more difficult to a person to meet future budgets. If you have credit card debt already and feel that the divorce will exacerbate your situation, you may want to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer to see if your debts can be reorganized or dismissed. It can help you make a fresh start, and you can actually be better off in the long run.

At the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, we work toward helping you achieve your best post-divorce life possible. That includes being able to budget for that life, and to make sure that you can handle the expected and even unexpected expenses you might incur.

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