Working Through Major Life Transitions: Divorce

Two women having a serious discussion

Divorce impacts two of the biggest buckets of your life: career and motherhood. In addition to the economic impact of divorce, the emotional stress of divorce and single parenting can impact your job performance. Working moms face specific challenges when walking through divorce. 

You’re not alone. Over 80% of single parents are moms, and 50% of those are working moms like you. As you navigate this transition, know that there are simple steps to help you take charge of the things you can control.  

Working Through Major Life Transitions: Divorce

Share the news with your manager

Even the most amicable divorce is still a major life change, and you’ll need to communicate the news to your manager sooner rather than later. Stick to the facts: You may need to take some time off to meet with your lawyer or attend court on a weekday. You need to start your shift earlier or later to accommodate your kids’ school schedule. You don’t have all the answers just yet but will communicate as you do.

Keeping your manager informed of any changes or needs due to your divorce will help keep your working relationship running smoothly. And it will provide your manager with key understandings to outside events that might impact your schedule or workload for a brief time.

Communicate with coworkers

It’s less critical that you share the news with your coworkers right away, but eventually the topic will come up. When you’re ready, you can share your update personally. Or, you can draft up a simple email that shares the fact that you’re getting divorced and what you know about your work schedule moving forward.

“Keep it simple,” recommends professional divorce coach Jessica Ashley. “No need to explain. Avoid lots of details. Don’t give in to the very tempting pull to get them on your side.” She recommends keeping that for your close friends and family, and creating some healthy boundaries by keeping it to the length of a tweet.

“Consider something like, ‘I want to let you know I am going through a divorce, and I appreciate your understanding during the process.’ And that can be it,” she says.

Tag in HR

As you work out the financial details of your divorce, you will need to provide information about your 401(k) and retirement account balances and potentially any company vesting or stock options you hold. You can begin collecting this information as well as any information about your health benefits and premiums and copies of your last two years of W2. 

Keep HR updated with your most current address, your name if you choose to legally change it, your emergency contact and any changes you need to make to your health coverage (divorce is a qualifying event and you can add dependents or remove your spouse at any point during the year, not just during open enrollment in the fall).

Accept and embrace the financial independence

As the sole earner in your household, you’re now in charge of everything. Overwhelming? It can be. But you also have complete say in how your money is spent, how much you save and what you do to earn that money. 

“Every single woman who I have worked with has money fears around divorce, and that crosses socioeconomic status, income earning or potential, and even includes those who will receive a financial settlement,” says Jessica.

The best way to begin conquering these fears is to take a real and honest look at how much income you need to sustain your life with your kids each month. Seeing this number in black and white can be alarming, but putting a number to the fear also helps formulate a plan.

As you create your household budget, be sure to include:

  • Total household expenses each month (estimate where needed if things are changing as you move or divide accounts)
  • Additional discretionary expenses like extra curricular activities for the kids, fitness classes or beauty routines for yourself
  • Any new expenses you may now be responsible for, like health benefits for the kids, childcare or extra gas money for a longer commute if you are moving

Now, take a close look at your income each month. If there’s a gap you need to fill, you have options:

  • Change your tax filing status and withholdings to increase your take-home pay. Just remember this may also impact what you’ll receive on your tax return at the end of the year.
  • Adjust your health benefits plan to a lower premium but higher deductible option.
  • Take advantage of any childcare credits your employer offers (and remember that you’ll be receiving a child tax credit on your taxes, too).
  • Look for a side hustle you can do while your kids are with their other parent, or early in the morning or late at night if you have primary custody. 
  • Negotiate your current role or consider a career change that fits your current needs - either more flexibility to mom solo or a higher income to meet your financial goals. 

“Putting numbers to the fears often helps formulate a plan,” says Jessica. “That initial and understandable panic about the numbers often ends up being liberating.” 

A note about side hustles and child custody: 

If you share custody of your children with your ex, you’ll have more kid-free time on your hands than normal when you don’t have custody. This time can be prime time for launching a side hustle. 

Look for a side hustle with a flexible schedule. When you do have custody, you’re now the only caregiver in the household and will be fully responsible for meals, bathtime, bedtime routines, and everything else, so your work hours will need to be flexible.

📖 Read more: Finding a Side Hustle That Fits

Compartmentalize to cope

“As much as possible, reframe this situation to managing the business of divorce,” says Jessica. It can feel like every question from your attorney, experts or ex needs an immediate response, especially when you’re trying to wrap things up as quickly as possible and move on. Keep your phone notifications muted and set aside specific time to review and respond to requests. 

When you’re home with your kids, try to be 100% present for them, and place non-essential work tasks on hold until after they’re in bed. If needed, talk to your manager about flexing your work schedule so that you can be fully present with your kids when needed. 

Take care of yourself, physically and mentally

This is a season of change and an opportunity for you to reassess your career and life goals and make a plan to meet them. Set aside time for yourself to grieve, but also to process and plan. And then move forward with your new plan for the future.

In the meantime, find ways to give yourself the support you need. Use your lunch break for a quick solo walk or meditation session. When possible, hire help. Whether it’s housecleaning or yardwork or a mail order meal service, try to take a  few things off your own to-do list. Small changes like this can majorly reduce your stress level as you find your new normal. Most of all, practice self-love. You deserve to be treated well, especially by you. 

Divorce can be a challenging season of life. Know that you’ve got this.  And you will come out stronger than ever on the other side.

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