Divorce is usually painful, messy and expensive in the short run. Ask Phil Collins, who recently paid out $47 million for his third divorce. But the financial pain of divorce doesn't always end when the forms are signed, but can linger on into retirement.
The immediate costs put a large cash hit on the divorcing household. The average cost for a divorce, according to maritalstatus.com, is $20,000, and 3.6 million marriages ended in divorce in 2008. If, in the settlement, one of the couple gets the house, he/she may be forced to pay capital gains on the appreciation. Split up a 401K without a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) and that money may become taxable as income.
The ongoing expenses, especially when the couple has dependent children, can soak up every penny of savings for years to come, and when only one of the couple works outside the home, the situation is even more dire. Double mortgages, health insurance, travel back and forth for the kids, the need to hire professionals to do work around the house that one or the other had previously done, all are a drain the monthly budget. Paying such ongoing expenses often comes at the expense of saving for retirement, too. For people working at companies that offer a match for 401K savings, the cost of not fully funding their account each year is magnified.
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The largest long-term financial consequence of a divorce is the right of a divorced spouse to share in social security benefits and other retirement program income. And what about that shared plot at Evergreen Acres?
Sadly, financial fortunes are often not even the worst damage divorce can wreak; children of divorced parents have a much rougher road to travel. They are more likely to divorce, thus falling into the same financial trap.
The answer? If I had an answer, I'd be stupid rich. Biology drives us together, and when our monkey brain takes charge, rational thought doesn't stand a chance.
However, I can suggest this; there are many, many reasons, including this one, to live below your means and save/invest for your future. If the sad necessity of divorce seems your best option, having the money to go through the process without ending up living in your car will make it at least a little less painful, today and for years to come.