Financial Considerations with Divorce

Parent Q&A

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  • I'm considering getting a divorce but don't know where to start and am worried about the financial impact. Here is my situation. My husband is unemployed, chronically unemployed (13 years). At this point I lost any hope that he will get a job or has the desire/motivation to get a job. He had a job (as well as good education and skills) and left it to take a break but the break became permanent. At the beginning I supported him taking a break from work but after some time I started bringing it up, asking him to return to the workforce. Eventually his savings ran out and we started relying on my income only which is very modest for Bay Area standards. He never openly shared with friends and family that he is unemployed and frankly we don't have many friends and see our families only once a year so it's easy to keep this facade. I believe that he is ashamed of his situation but every time I asked him to reach out for help (counseling) he dismissed it. We have an amazing 10 year old kid and my husband is a good father. We haven't had any sexual or romantic relationship for years and I lost any romantic interest for him -- I feel bitter, disappointed and trapped. I don't think he ever really loved me. If he loved me he would had found the courage to restart professionally (even on a part time basis) and help our financial situation and our marriage. We had ugly arguments in the past about this but after a certain point I gave up. I look at the future and all I see is myself carrying the financial weight of our family and leading a loveless life. I am staying for my kid because I don't want them to lose the stability and security they get from all of us living together as a family. Given that we rely on my income only and have just enough to pay the mortgage and all other expenses, I don't see how it's financially possible to separate and find a place of my own. From the little I read about the divorce process, I understand that it's expensive, takes time and will be emotionally hard for all of us. I am not sure what to do. I read that it's possible that I might have to pay alimony which I find utterly unfair because he is healthy, has skills and should be able to obtain employment. I don't even know how he will react if I tell him I want a divorce. Part of me thinks I have to stay in this for the sake of my kid, another part of me is longing for truth and love. Any advice would help. 

    I was in a similar situation--many years ago.  As it turned out, my husband (who also refused to go to therapy, so I did--alone) was/is chronically depressed. I divorced him because living on my salary as a teacher, and supporting him & my 2 sons, dragged me down --for years.  I loved him, but it became too unhealthy for me and my kids.  All the best. 

    I can’t offer much advice but I’ve been through something very similar. We were renting at the time and got evicted it was my saving grace. From there I got my place with my child and I’ve been happy ever sense. Once this happened amazingly enough my ex got a job. 

    I’m still not legally separated or divorced but he’s happy otherwise …don’t put your own happiness off

    Good luck! I'm sorry to hear about your situation. It can be an intimidating process. Remember you only live once, (as far as we can see) so make the best of it. 

    Have you amicably talked to your husband about the divorce? Have you discussed the different scenarios in the event of a divorce? 

    Have you read the divorce forms? I recommend you start with reading them, that way, you get a better idea of the process. Whoever files first is the petitioner and the other the respondent. Both the petitioner and the respondent have to pay around $400 to file the docs, so around $800. 

    In the forms, you will stipulate your custody and financial arrangements and submit that to the court. Once the court reviews them and stamps them, you will need to serve him those documents, and he will need to respond on whether he agrees or does not. If he does not agree, that’s when it gets tricky and expensive, so it’s best if you can come to an agreement before, if possible.  

    Because you have a child and want the judge to make orders about custody, you may need to see family court services, who make recommendations to the judge regarding custody. 

    I've been going through a divorce that's gone on for 6 years. I know a little, but nowhere near an expert. I’ve made many mistakes. In 2016, I got full  (legal and physical) custody of my two daughters. In 2018 the judge ordered me to pay for spousal support of $1,085 even as a single parent. This is because he suffers from a serious mental illness. It's been hard for me as a single working mother. The judge did order him to look for work, which till this day he has not found. He also has to send me proof that he is looking for employment.  I’m sharing this with you to let you know that most likely the judge will order him to get a job. 

    It’s my understanding that if you need to pay spousal support, you pay for half the number of years you were married if less than 10 years married. In my case, I would pay spousal support for 4 years because we were married for 8. If the judge orders you to pay spousal support, you can change the order if there’s a change in your financial circumstances, like  losing your job. 

    Well, you have to do something.  I really could have written your post seven years ago; I am now divorced and life is so much better.  It was hard; I thought, clearly, he's depressed; he is a good father; no sensible person would just sit home for years like this; no one would actually want to put this much burden on their partner.  But that's exactly what he was choosing, and he was not willing to give it up. We did do couples counseling, and you should too.  It was an opportunity for me to say that I needed changes, but he was not able to respond. So we separated, and you know what?  He got a job and immediately was fully supporting himself. He could have asked for alimony, but he did not; many (most?) men do not. I kept the house and had to buy him out; that sucked, but we did it mostly through our asset split; obviously I could afford the mortgage on my own.  I do think that the couples counseling helped make the divorce process, and reaching agreement on those financial issues, easier.  Barring a turnaround by your husband from couples counseling, you know what's ahead if you stay with him, since you've been running this experiment for 13 years already. Here's what happened to me when we divorced: I got a better job with higher pay and am enjoying professional success; we shared custody and he remained an involved father; we all get along and the kids did have a lot of stability.  Of course there have also been challenges, and there is sadness about what could have been.  But the good ship Could Have Been sailed away long before we got divorced.  Best wishes to you, whatever path you take.

    California is a community property state which works to the marked disadvantage of the higher (or only) earning spouse. It has nothing to do with fairness - drop that thought. If you are certain you want a divorce, which sounds reasonable from what you've written, the financial risk for you grows the longer you remain married to him. I am not an attorney but went through this some years ago. You will probably owe alimony and child support. Recommend you find a divorce mediator - much cheaper than having dueling attorneys, and settle this for yourself asap. It would help if he moved out but that may be a thornier issue and I wouldn't focus on that if it delays you getting a divorce. Try to stay in the house, especially if you own it. A lousy marriage is unhealthy for your child as well. Your child will be better off with a happy, divorced mom. Your child will weather this divorce - he has two loving parents.

    California is a no-fault divorce state, and a lot of things like spousal support, child support, child custody, and division of assets (community property) are pretty algorithmic. I think spousal support is more like a certainty than a maybe, as he has no income and you have been supporting him. Barring abuse or substance abuse, 50-50 physical and legal custody of your child is also almost a certainty.

    It sounds like you would have to sell your house. Even if you could cover the mortgage post-divorce, he is entitled to half of your community property assets (I'm assuming the house is community property and not something one of you owned before the marriage or inherited), so if you got the house in the settlement, he would have to get more of your other assets to offset it. I would consider relocating someplace less expensive if either you can work remotely or your work is such that you can find a job elsewhere. Of course, that's it's own challenge with joint custody.

    My ex and I used a mediator for our divorce. Much cheaper and less contentious that lawyers, but only if you can both approach it without bitterness and in good faith.

    My ex and I also have an unusual living situation where we occupy two units of a duplex. It wasn't strategic, we owned the duplex while married and the rental unit happened to be vacant when we separated. But, if you could sell your home and buy a duplex or a home with an in-law unit, it's an option. You might have to downgrade your neighborhood to afford it.

    What difficult position you are in. Divorce is never easy. I am in the middle of one myself. I'll ask the first obvious question: have you worked with a couples counselor? If not, and if you and your spouse are willing to work on improving your relationship and marriage, that may be a reasonable first step. Given that you have a child, your spouse will be in your life for the rest of your life, married or not. That said, counseling did not improve my marriage, and divorce is the better option for both me and my children.

    I'd like to share information for two organizations that provide free informational divorce workshops. I attended a workshop from each and found them helpful in deciding how to move forward. I highly encourage you to education yourself before speaking with your husband about it.

    Second Saturday:

    Collaborative Practice:

    As you noted, divorce is expensive, takes time, and is emotionally difficult. And, you have options. The Second Saturday workshop I attended even had a presentation by the attorney who founded Hello Divorce (, the Rocket Mortgage equivalent of divorce. Find the option that works for you, and take care of yourself. 

    Life is too short to be so unhappy and especially to not feel loved.  You deserve both.  

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry you are in this intractable situation. If you are not already, I would start seeing a therapist -- this should help you work through some of the anger you feel toward your husband and give some more clarity on your path forward. Ultimately, it's your life and although your choices affect your child, your happiness also affects how you mother. Second, I would consult a divorce lawyer to see what your options are and to get an estimate on costs. Many will do an initial consultation for free. Best wishes to you on this difficult journey ahead.

    I'm so sorry to hear about your situation with your husband. Sounds like you are trapped and carrying the burden of taking care of everyone with very little for yourself. I'm not an expert but you're correct in that divorce (or any legal proceeding like a lawsuit) is very expensive as you probably need to pay hourly fees for a divorce attorney which can add up to a LOT. Not to mention all the legal fees (yours and your husband's) will be coming out of what I assume from a joint bank account, which is community property between you and him.  Hopefully, someone in this network who has been through a divorce can inform you on how much a divorce can cost financially so that you can assess whether or not it is worth going that route. 

    If not divorce, do you think couple's counseling can be considered here? Even if you're dead set on never loving your husband the same way you did before, perhaps a professional therapist can help guide you through talking to him and letting him know that you're no longer going to put up with him being unemployed and bearing all the burden of your family. 

    I dont know much about divorce, but I do know you only have one life and deserve truth and love. This is a great first step towards that. I am sure folks will recommend some good divorce attorneys; you can speak to one or two to get a good assesment of the situation. Best of luck to you. 

    Repost of my response to another BPN member in 2019. I've now been divorced for 10 years and IT'S THE BEST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE!! And I have a wonderful boyfriend who is the polar opposite of my ex!  From 2019: OMG ... I could have written your post! I got divorced and it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my children. HOWEVER, it is very difficult getting a divorce from this type of man without paying alimony TO HIM! When my attorney (Margaret Gannon) told me I would probably have to pay alimony to him because we had been married for 20 years and I was now making more money than him, I almost lost it. My ex was chronically unemployed for the last 10 years of our marriage. He probably worked 5 out of 10 years. Losing his job was never his fault in his mind. In reality, he had a problem dealing with women, especially as his superior. He does not take responsibility for anything in his life and the job situation is no different. As he moved from job to job, his pay declined and each job was worse than the previous one. I mean how can a man not monetize an MBA and earn six figures?! I think he doesn't even put it on his resume anymore because his job is so menial. So how did I extract myself? Some of it was my good fortune that he lied to all his friends about his work situation. They all kept telling him to try to avoid PAYING ME ALIMONY. So we separated. I took the kids and everything except the master bedroom furniture. I insisted we sell our house. I could not be financially tied to this man any longer. And then I waited for him to get a job. While he was feeling flush and excited with the new job, I wrote our settlement agreement saying we would both give up our claim to alimony. His friends thought I was an idiot and encouraged him to sign the agreement. We shared legal custody of the kids but I insisted on 100% physical custody. My children were 11 and 16 at the time of our separation and have never spent a night at their father's home. He doesn't even have room for them. I figured my job was to take care of myself and my children. I couldn't let him drag all of us down with his unwillingness to be employed and take care of his family. To his credit, he gives me money monthly to cover some expenses, but he doesn't contribute to the cost of housing and feeding our kids. About the debt ... you might want to contact a bankruptcy attorney. It's not the end of the world and might be your only option. I spent several years agonizing about what to do, worrying about destroying my children's lives, wondering if I could make it on my own. Once I finally made a decision to DO SOMETHING, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I could breathe again. I was finally moving forward. My children and I are SO much happier. We are all hopeful. My ex is not and probably never will be. Don't be afraid to take a leap of faith. You deserve to be happy and you deserve to be with a person who wants to be your partner and who wants you to be happy. You deserve so much better.

    I hear you, but don't stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of your kid. Kids grow up and leave, and at that point you will want to be in a place where you feel proud of what you have achieved in life, and to have a partner you enjoy spending time with (or to be alone and in peace). Even worse: kids are smart and they understand what happens around them, even if you try not to show it. Happy parents will raise happy kids. They tend to imitate the home environment, so what they see at home is what they will do as partners and parents. Financial issues in this case are the hard part, but don't let that stop you. Get a good lawyer if you can, but also remember that any money you spend in lawyers (you both), will be money that you will not give to your kid, so it would be better if you both understand this and achieve a fair agreement without spending too much in lawyers. If you don't achieve an agreement you will eventually go to court, and a judge will decide for you. Don't let the rest of your life be miserable because of the fear of having a few bad years ahead. I have seen people pay alimony and child support, and live very tight for some years, and then find a new partner and be happy again. Every bad moment will pass.

    Another thing that can happen is that after you tell him that you want divorce he changes his behavior and finds a job. Then you'll see if you can recover the romantic interest for him, which you probably lost because of the disappointment and the lack of admiration towards your husband. Every marriage has periods of crisis, I am not saying go get divorced. If it's fixable, try to fix it, if it's not, don't stay there for fear or laziness. Of course, your dilemma is whether your marriage can be fixed or not since it doesn't depend on you alone, but that's a decision no one can take for you. What advice would you give to a friend, family member, or your own kid if they were in a situation like yours?

    Hope everything ends well for you, whatever path you take!!!

    My heart goes out to you.  Sounds like you are miserable in so many ways.  If your husband can’t get a job now in this job market he’s not trying very hard or isn’t motivated.  And that’s probably a good indicator of you financial and interpersonal relationship in the future.  If you are asking about a divorce I think you know the answer and are looking for conformation from your BPN community.  Kids are resilient and will adapt.  As for you, wouldn’t you like the companionship, friendship and intimacy of someone who cares about you and you care about?  If you do nothing the next 13 years will be like the previous 13 expect you will be older and more miserable.  You could try couples counseling, but from your post it sounds like he wouldn’t be interested in participating.  If you split, the finances will get worked out.  You are in California so you might have to pay support.  Have you tried to talk to him?  Have you told him how you feel and that you are considering a split?  You might want to think about what you want and make a list.  Based on the answers you are given and how you feel you’ll know what to do next.  Better to have a lot of pain now, then endure years or another decade of being miserable.  Hope this helps  

    I’m so sorry. Could you move on without divorcing? Try to preserve the coparent relationship and maintain some family time.. but step away from the marriage and pursue your own life, and even new relationships. Best wishes.

    I just wanted to reach out and tell you that although I have no solution or advice for you (sorry!) I admire your courage for posting here, for being open and honest with yourself about the situation and your needs, and for sacrificing your own happiness to create stability for your kid. As a mother myself, I can imagine I might want to do the same, but it does take a lot of inner strength! And on top of that you are supporting all three of you and working hard to do so. Also amazing! Please know that although I don’t know you, I have given you a name in my head and I am praying for you. I feel like that is the one thing I can do at least. It must be incredibly difficult in the day-to-day to find time for yourself, but if you can manage even a few minutes each day, maybe with a journal or with a walk in nature, maybe you can slowly uncover - bit by bit - your own voice in this and this may just be the process you need to go through to discover the next steps to take. Whatever you do, you have the strength and wisdom inside of you already to do it. And reaching out and sharing with others is a great start as well. All the best to you!

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It sounds incredibly hard. Would you consider talking to your husband about couples therapy with the bigger picture that things are not working? Therapy is cheaper than divorce and if even in the end a divorce is needed, then couples therapy might help to make it less conflicted. 

    I'm so sorry you're unhappy.

    I went through a divorce last year and it was emotionally and financially devestating. No matter your husband's education and capabilities, you will most likely be required to pay support.
    I urge you to go to couple's counseling. I realize you think this is his problem; there may be more going on than you know. If you're able to find someone good, who can listen to each of you and create a space in which you can express your frustrations, perhaps you'll gain understanding into why your husband stopped working. 

    I hope you reconsider. 

    Please, for yourself, seek advice from a good lawyer.  I used Candelaria.  Most attorneys will do a short (one-hour) interview with you to give you an idea of what your options are, and answer your questions, for free or for an affordable price.  Do it.  You won't regret it.  Knowledge is power, and I understand that you feel powerless right now, but this life is not sustainable for you.  You deserve happiness and a partner with a good work ethic who appreciates you and contributes to the relationship and household like you do.  I was married for 20 years with 3 teens when I left.  There is fear and guilt and myriad other emotions you'll go through, but I have NO REGRETS, and now see my future in a POSITIVE light, not with an unhappy, dead end.  GO!  Seek advice.  You can do this, and you deserve happiness, not just existence.   

    One thing that I haven't seen on anyone's answers here is to do an official Financial Separation immediately.  After that, the divorce stuff can happen at your own pace.  

    Simultaneously, you should do your free credit check, on both of your SSNs.  You need to find out what debts exist, as well as open credit cards.  There may be open credit cards that you had no idea existed.  All of them are considered joint property before the Financial Separation, even if only one person's name is on the card. 

    Once you know the list of credit cards and have done the Financial Separation, close all of the credit cards and bank accounts.  Otherwise an unemployed spouse could potentially put charges on the card, depending on their level of desperation and integrity.

    After the Financial Sep, you can open your own credit cards and restart separate bank accounts, recording what amount of cash (community property) goes into the new bank accounts.

    And I do not agree with the person who said that most men do not try to get spousal support!  You may be surprised by how angry and vindictive your x may get.  Mine was ok with the status quo.

    I'm divorcing.  1.  Don't move out of the house and for sure don't leave your child behind.  2.  Your husband is gaining more and more of a property interest in the house (talk to a lawyer to be sure).  3.  Try to find therapy to understand what is going to be best for you and your son.  It was hard but worth it.  Good luck.

    Hi there. I just wanted to chime in with the following resources, as many people do not know of these support programs. Particularly feeling moved to share since so many respondents said they’ve known or know people with similar patterns. (“Debt” here doesn’t always mean money—it can be time, resources, or simply undervaluing oneself, aka “self debting.”)

    Underearners Anonymous 

    Debtors Anonymous

    Further, there’s a “sister” program for the friends and loved ones of chronic debtors.

    Best to you all in a very difficult situation. 

  • My partner and I (domestic partner) have been having trouble in our marriage since the beginning. We have been off and on together for over 8 years. Lots of history and a rocky start. We got married a little over 3 years ago and have a 2 year old together. She also has 3 teens from a previous same sex marriage who live with us half time. We are considering splitting. Unfortunately, I have only been working part time and there’s no way for me to afford rent in the Bay Area. She wants 50/50 even though she works full time. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I kind of want to nest in this house but it still means finding a place to live. And I don’t think she will agree to it. She can afford all this. I can’t. I’m worried. I also really don’t want to be away from my young toddler (whom I birthed) and we have a secure bond that is very important that I keep in tact. We are planning to see a mediator because we cannot talk about hard things without arguing. Too much anger and resentment. I am worried I’ll lose what I’ve worked so hard on with my daughter by losing out on half of her life. But we are not happy together. I also don’t want to get screwed financially. Anyone know a great mediator or lawyer or counselor for this situation? Thank you. 

    Consider a full year of therapy before splitting, there’s a lot to loose and a lot at stake. If you use mediation do it with a consulting attorney from the start. They’ll let you know when the marriage settlement agreement(MSA) is or is not in your favor. If I could give you a referral it would be for Unmani Sarasvati. She’s a local woman who was helpful to me in the past and can act as your consulting attorney or attorney record.
    Hope some of this is helpful, I’ve left her info below.  

    Unmani Sarasvati, JD, LLM (tax)

    Mediation Offices


    Hello, I recommend Camille King ( She does only "collaborative" separations/co-parenting, etc. (meaning no court), so there is a focus on keeping things from getting nasty. I found her to be very level-headed, personable, and knowledgeable. 

    My divorce attorney was wonderful. Her name is Lisa Mendes You can tell her Erika referred you. Good luck. 

    Hi, I’m sorry I don’t know of someone, but wanted to let you know that you can get some idea of the amount of child support she’ll have to pay you at the website pasted below. Courts have to follow a guideline amount, so if you know both your financials and the time spent with each parent you can roughly if not exactly calculate it.  There are also free legal services available to you - explore around on this same website. Best of luck.

    Hi there. My ex and I worked with Fred Hertz in Oakland when we split several years ago. Our breakup was not contentious so I cannot speak to how he would work with both of you together, but I can say he is a great attorney and a kind, ethical, warm and approachable person to boot (which for me is huge because I don’t speak legalese and was feeling overwhelmed and intimidated about having to approach the legal realm of breaking up). He’s written four books about legal issues relevant to gay/lesbian couples (found on his website). He’s regrettably also expensive, but I suggest calling him even if you can’t afford his fee and asking if he can recommend someone in your price range. As an aside, it may be that what you need is an attorney batting FOR YOU alone, and yes a mediator or counselor to talk through things with your partner (sorry I don’t have those to recommend). If nothing else check out Fred’s website, reading his books might be a place to start. Your situation sounds really tough, and I am so sorry, I wish I could help more. I wish you all the best. 

    I read "Divorce over 50" before I decided to split.  Probably the "over 50" part doesn't apply to you, but I would get some basic book and read it.  It will be full of stuff that is good to know.  I agree with the poster who said consider therapy and have a consulting attorney from the start if you do mediation.  You can even pay for a consult with an attorney now, even if you don't know if you want to proceed. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Considering divorce but worried about finances

Nov 2008

I am considering getting a divorce after only 2 years. My issue is that I haven't worked for 3 years because I have been in grad school full time and have 1 more year to go. Basically, if I went through with the divorce, I'd have the kid (who's mine from a previous relationship), no job, no car, and no housing. Is it okay to ask for some sort of alimony since I haven't got any real financial income other than financial aid? What's an appropriate amount? If I were to try and rent a place, do landlords deem income such as fin. aid as acceptable income? I am in the process of looking for a job, but I just changed careers so I haven't got much background. Anyone know of lawyers who offer free divorce advice? anon

You should consult with a lawyer, but I imagine that it is not unlikely that you could receive some alimony. You have only been married a very short time, so even if you were to receive alimony you would likely only get it for a short time, but you may need some help to get on your feet. Your ex will not be paying child support unless he adopted your child, I believe. But definitely -- a lawyer. divorced mom

Divorce: timing & taxes

October 2006

My husband and I are divorcing, but waiting several months because we don't have the money to live separately quite yet. We are wondering, however, what kind of difference (if any) marital status will make in our income taxes--should be trying to file before the end of the year for tax purposes or should we wait until 2007? Does it make any real difference? (We are already short on money, and don't want to put ourselves at even more of a disadvantage by planning this wrong.) Anonymous

The date you file your Petition for Dissolution is irrelevant for tax purposes. Beginning in the tax year in which you get a Final Judgment of Dissolution you can no longer file joint returns. It takes a minimum of 6 months to get a Final Judgment. So even if you file now, you can still file jointly for 2006. If you get the Final J in 2007, you must file single for 2007 Hope this helps

If your incomes are about the same, you will pay less tax filing as single. In order to be able to file as single, the divorce must be final as of 12/31 of the year.

If you are not divorced as of 12/31 of the year, your only choices are to file ''married filing jointly'' or ''married filing separately''. Filing separately usually results in higher tax liability.

If you have dependent children, it is possible for one of you to be a ''head of household'' (saving you some tax), and the other one ''married filing separately'', but only if you did not live together at any time during the last 6 months of the year, which is not your case.

Given that you still live together up through October, I don't think it is likely that your divorce will get finalized by 12/31 (check me on this one). If you can't get divorced by 12/31 and trust each other financially, then filing a joint return will generally result in a lowest tax liability (assuming about the same income level for both of you) Maria