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How to Manage Divorce, Distress and Debt

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Tetra Images via Getty Images
Tetra Images via Getty Images

Kevin had a good thing going. In Edmonton, he and his wife were earning a combined six-figure income. They had recently sold their house and had taken a few trips with their kids. They began renting a home, while they figured out where to go next as they closed one chapter and began looking to the next one.

Unfortunately, the next chapter would have one less character -- Kevin's wife wanted a divorce. Suddenly, his household income was split in half and the cost of moving to a new place with his kids meant his expenses doubled.

"I thought I could take care of the costs with my credit card and it'd be over sooner than later," says Kevin, who is using an alias for privacy purposes. "Well, it ended up being later than sooner."

I learned about Kevin in my role as executive director at Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada. He reached out to us after he began racking up credit card debt to cover the costs of moving, setting up a new home and covering basic family needs. His story is common -- debt seems to go hand-in-hand with divorce.

"We didn't have anything that was superfluous," adds Kevin. "We didn't have cable TV, and my cell phone was paid for by work. I used credit cards to pay for essentials -- groceries and school expenses for my kids."

According to Melanie Kraft, a family lawyer with Epstein Cole LLP in Toronto, Kevin is not unique. She says the cost of a divorce can be enormous, even after the legal process is complete.

"Remember, the financial strain of divorce does not end with reaching a settlement," says Kraft. "When couples separate, their expenses can increase by as much as $20,000 to $30,000 a year because of the need to support a second household. This includes the need for duplicate items for children in two homes, as well as the possibility of child support and spousal support payments."

Living lean minimized the amount of debt that Kevin needed to take on. He owed about $10,000 (nearly half of the national average), but it took three years to get financial support from his ex-wife and the pressure was overwhelming.

"You have this feeling in your gut, it's an anxiety and it eats at you all the time," says Kevin. "Honestly, when you're going through the depression of your divorce, the last thing you really need to do is worry about money."

Kraft is all too familiar with the mental impact of divorce among her clients.

"Emotional adjustments to the loss of intimacy, the loss of social connection, reduced finances and the interruption of parental roles can result in people experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression," notes Kraft. "It is important for separating people to reach out for support from doctors, mental health professionals and friends."

But Kevin is breathing easier, now that he is debt-free. Drastically reducing his spending and reaching out for credit counselling helped him get back on his feet, and I think the key in this recovery was his resolve to move forward. Divorce is difficult, but it happens. Don't let the financial burden drag you down for any longer than it needs to.

"What I've learned most out of this process is to be very proactive and go after things," adds Kevin. "I'm not going to let the chips fall where they may anymore, I don't live that way anymore."

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