THE BLOG
02/20/2014 01:35 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2014

Divorce Doesn't Have to Mean Financial Confusion

My final meeting with my divorce attorney went something like this:

Attorney: "Here is your final settlement. Your alimony check will be deposited automatically into your account on the first of every month."

Me: "Awesome! Now what about the rest of the days?"

Attorney: "This is it. This is what you have to live on now."

Me. "No seriously. What about the rest of the days?"

Attorney: now with added head shake. "You will have to make some adjustments, but I've seen women do it on less. Best of luck. It's been great working with you."

Huh?

For many women finding themselves single and free after a long term marriage, there is an initial period of exhilaration. No more feigning fascination as hubby relives his day on the golf course, hole by hole. No more hours and hours of CNN while Real Housewives is being recorded on the crappy little television in the bedroom. No more hours spent looking for that one black dress sock that can't seem to stay with it's partner. No more!

On the other hand, exhilaration may be short lived as women come to terms with the down side of the no mores. No more black American Express card. No more private Pilates sessions, (Please remember in group sessions we wipe down our own reformer.) No more girls weekends in South Beach. Frankly, it can be a bit of a downer. However, once the shock wears off, a woman needs to rise up, move forward and take charge of her new financial situation.

For those of us who are now living on alimony, there are two elements we basically need to come to terms with. The first element, of course, is planning for our future and learning how to live with our new financial situation. The other element, is the psychological impact of depending on a person we are no longer married to to take care of us. In some ways this can make us feel as though we will never really be self sufficient and truly free. I would like to touch on each of these elements in this article.

Everyone's plan and settlement is different. Some women will receive life time alimony, others, like myself, get it for a set number of years. In any case, you need to know how to handle the money you will be receiving so that you can begin to build a little nest for retirement. Everyone's nest will be of a different size. For instance, my recently divorced friend could easily hold a family of bald eagles in her nest, while mine will probably only hold a few baby sparrows, but still, it's mine.

The first big thing about alimony a woman needs to know is ALIMONY IS TAXABLE!
I found this out the hard way. All I knew about taxes is that once a year my now ex-husband would bring me a tax return and show me where to sign. Then he would be very cranky for a few days and that was what I knew about taxes. Imagine my surprise when during my first year as a divorcee, I received a note from my divorce attorney telling me to call her if I needed help with taxes. "What?" I thought. "How hard can it be to go to the mailbox and bring in a refund check?" Then on second look I noticed she said if I needed help with "paying" my taxes. Uh oh.

That first year I was hit with an $11,000.00 tax bill and ended up selling my wedding ring to pay it. I now put 20 percent of each check away for taxes. Sure, sometimes I get tempted to dip into my tax account when I get the new Free People catalog but I learned my lesson the hard way. Listen ladies, the IRS is not screwing around. They don't care that your ex-husband is living it up with his girlfriend in a beautiful home on the golf course and that you are living in a condo with those plastic vertical blinds from the 80s. They want their money.

After this horrific experience, I hired a financial advisor to help me make a plan. We came up with a budget and I try very hard to stick to it. I highly recommend this to all of you starting out on your own after a long term marriage. Get some professional help laying out a game plan. Once you get a grip on your finances, you can go from there with long term planning, and looking for ways to boost your financial situation, whether it be finding employment or smart investments. I found a little part time job at a local health spa. The pay wasn't great but I did learn how to wax my own eyebrows, so... there's that.

The other element we discussed is the psychological element of being dependent on an ex-husband. Here's how I look at that; I was married for 27 years. If I had been employed with a company for that long, I certainly would not feel one bit weird about walking away with a good financial package. That is how I look at my alimony. I earned every dime of it.

Though you may feel like you are still "under his thumb," you are not. By taking charge of your finances and getting help to put together a plan, you are taking charge of your future. Take what you have earned in your marriage and make a life for yourself, one that gives you security for the future, while allowing you some happiness now.

Trust me when I tell you the future is bright and your possibilities are endless. Take care of yourself! Ask questions, get help. It's all you now. Take it and run with it.

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