Women like the mother in Washington, who leave the workforce for several years, will likely see their earnings stunted when they resume working. The main reason women suffer the brunt of divorce’s financial burdens, according to Jenkins, is that during marriage, they are more likely than men to stop working in order to raise kids. “The key differences are not between men and women, but between fathers and mothers,” he told The Guardian.
On top of that, divorce proceedings alone can pose a serious financial burden. According to Divorce Magazine, a trade publication, the cost of divorce varies wildly, from as little as $8,500 to well over $100,000. An accurate average is hard to nail down, but estimates usually fall within the range of $15,000 to $30,000. And if the split is relatively amicable, costs can sometimes be as low as $250 to $3,000, according to Lee Borden, a divorce lawyer in Alabama.
These burdens tend to fall disproportionately on women, and, in its usual way, the market has recognized that: A handful of firms have started providing loans—some of them for hundreds of thousands of dollars—to women so that they can properly argue their case in court. The loans’ interest rates can be high, but one firm estimates that applicants typically win assets worth three times the amount of their loan.
But without such outside help, many find themselves trapped, and it’s not just women who can experience divorce’s ill financial effects. Bari Weinberger, a family-law attorney working in New Jersey, says that while child support and alimony can cause hang-ups in court, it’s also the case that many people simply cannot afford what they’re ordered to pay, and end up defaulting because they are out of options. “You now have two households and one check to make ends meet. And it’s not easy,” Weinberger said. “When men come to us looking for advice on how to handle this support, we can’t create the funds that aren’t there.”
Weinberger says that because of the inevitability of alimony and child support, she advises ex-partners to make peace with paying for support before proceedings even begin. “The judge is going to order how much you pay and for how long, once you go to court, and that’s it,” she says. (If spouses choose to divorce via a settlement, she notes, they have a little more flexibility.)
And alimony and child support don’t always flow from ex-husband to ex-wife. Many men fear they’ll be ridiculed when others find out they’re receiving money from their exes, Weinberger says. Some would rather forgo their monthly stipends than swallow their pride, even if they are the stay-at-home parent bringing in no income.
Of course, the messiness of life can cause serious stress before there’s time to have a judge step in. When asked what she got out of her divorce, a mother in New Hampshire I spoke to simply says: “divorced.” Having been married to her husband for two years and having been the mother of their child, the woman found herself without any financial safety net when they split abruptly. “He would not contribute to any expenses,” she said. “He gave me 15 days to get off his cellphone plan, and expected that I wouldn't default on our rent, which was $1,600 a month. I sold my cellphone for food and got a prepaid number.”