Personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, host of RLTV's “Cash Call,” dedicated Tuesday's episode of her half-hour call-in show to divorce over 50. She talked to The Huffington Post about how women in particular can avoid the financial fall-out that may accompany a marriage’s demise -- as well as the biggest mistake that she says women often make during divorce.
Couples over 50 are divorcing at a higher rate than ever. What's different about divorcing later in life today?
I think what we’re seeing is a shift overall in how devastating divorce has to be. There used to be a perception that if you’re a woman and you get divorced, that was sort of a death sentence financially. Now, because of the trajectory of women in terms of their earning power, it’s not such a death sentence. [Over the past three-four years], women’s income has gone up about 2.9 percent. Now, it’s not as much of an increase as we’ve seen in men, but it’s not like it’s fallen off a cliff either.
What financial steps do women need to take when going through a divorce?
Any person needs to go through the process of figuring out what their new cash flow statement is and what that needs to look like. Whenever you go through something like this, you need to start fresh and you need to start looking at, “What am I going to have coming in?” and “What am I going to have coming out?” and “How can I sustain myself?” That’s a matter of looking at not just your income, but also the assets that you take away from the marriage. The women who do it right don’t say, “I’m staying in my house because I have to -- I just can’t imagine leaving it.” They say, “I’m going to stay in my house because I can afford to.”
Do you think women are susceptible to emotional decision-making during a divorce?
Yes, I think that’s the number one divorce mistake that women have made through the ages. Trading the house for the pension, so to speak. [Divorce] is a very emotional time. So much is changing that you want to control anything that you can to keep it from changing, in many cases. And it really needs to come back to the numbers.
Can you speak more to this idea of “trading the house for the pension”?
There are people who are very emotionally attached to their homes. The home is generally the largest asset or one of the two largest assets, along with the retirement account. The home costs you money to maintain, the pension does not. So the question becomes: If you’re the spouse who wants to stay in the house, can you actually afford to do that? Do you have an income that will allow that? And, if that’s the choice you make -- and you swap the house for a pension or retirement account -- what are you going to do about retirement?
What’s the most valuable tool in a woman’s arsenal as she goes through the divorce process?
I think you need a good adviser, not just an attorney, but someone on the finance side. It can be your accountant; it can be your financial adviser -- someone who can look at what’s happening in your life if you don’t feel that you can do that for yourself and who can do it objectively. The other thing to focus on is your income. One of my money rules -- and I have a new book out called "Money Rules" -- is that your job is your most important investment. Your earning power is key. Focus on that. Focus on getting yourself out in the work place and earning some money. It’s good for you not just financially, but I think emotionally.
Check out a clip of the "Cash Call" episode below:
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