When Your Perfect Marriage Becomes A Shambles…

 …and your financial stability is built on a fault line.

Does anyone remember the earthquake that shook the East Coast from Georgia to Massachusetts in 2011?  The one where the epicenter was in Virginia?  Everyone was shocked, except those who knew that Virginia (and the East Coast in general) is on a major fault line.  Apparently, so was my marriage, and, incidentally, my finances.

You go from being happily married, thinking you are financially stable, planning on buying an amazing house with your husband, to living in your sister’s guest room, having fled your home and friends because your husband has fallen out of love with you.

On top of it all, the stress of trying to save a marriage that you didn’t know was already in ashes nearly killed you.

So now what?  You have to deal with the emotional trauma of what you thought was an amazing marriage falling apart. You have zero retirement options.  Why?  As someone in academics, you have never had a full-time job in your entire life.  And, you’re 40.

Facing the facts

When I arrived at my sister’s house, one of the first things we talked about (and everyone talked with me about), was money.  How am I going to feed, clothe, and shelter myself?  What am I going to do about retirement?  What am I going to do about health insurance?  This was incredibly stressful to me.

There were some days when I just couldn’t take it and would burst into tears (again). Otherwise, I would just say that I wasn’t able talk about this right now, and walk away.

Well, now I am several months away from the initial split. Finances are something that need to be discussed and figured out.  Yes, I will be getting “maintenance”, which is the same as alimony. But that is only for a few years and I will be taxed on it. That means it’s not as much as it seems.

Then there is the issue of retirement.  I am entitled to half of our assets.  I was thinking, ok good, this will be helpful. He’s had a 401k for a while.  Guess again, honey.  At mediation I found out there was less than $10,000 left in that account.  $10,000.  That’s a good amount for a basic savings account, but that is NOTHING when it comes to being able to retire, like, ever.  How did this happen?  Well, that’s a story for another day.  The point is, I have ZERO retirement set up, because Social Security is also a joke.

Financial security?  What the hell is that?

Now I have to start getting my ducks in a row, not only because he never did, but because I no longer have that joint income.  I will admit that I am afraid and somewhat ashamed to go to a financial planner for help.  Why? The state of my finances is abysmal.

You know how people avoid the dentist because they don’t want the dentist to give them a hard time about not flossing?  This is how I feel about going to the financial planner.

I am going through the worst time in my life, and I really don’t want to hear about how I should have done a better job with money.

Will a decent person/financial planner (I’m hoping that’s not an oxymoron) shame me to my face?  I hope not.  Hopefully, at worst, she will roll her eyes internally, while smiling and comforting me, and telling me that it will be tough, but doable.

I am absolutely terrified that I will be told that I will never be able to retire unless I somehow get a serious job in the near future.  The other unappealing option being that if I do retire, ever, I will be on food stamps and supplementing my “income” by teaching Tai Chi at the community center indefinitely.  Nothing wrong with teaching Tai Chi.  I do teach it already, but I don’t want to have to do it in order to be able to buy food.

Just like Gloria Gaynor: I will survive

But here’s the reality.  It is the same as the dentist.  The sooner you go, the sooner, yes, you may get bad news, but the sooner you can start planning.  True, it is possible you will have the financial equivalent of getting your gums scraped in that first visit.  However, the earlier you know where you stand, the faster you can start working toward some semblance of financial stability.

So suck it up, Buttercup.  My life blew apart this year, despite doing everything in my power to keep it together.  I may not have any control over the direction my marriage went, but at least I can gain control over my financial future.


This article is part of a series that chronicles the real life journey of Lillian Epps, a woman navigating a recent divorce. The stories are real. The names have been changed. Photo by Jonatán Becerra

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