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My marriage didn't survive quarantine — how I managed my money after a pandemic divorce

How did Laura Wheatman Hill manage her money after getting divorced just months into the pandemic?

Mike Kemp | Rubberball | Getty Images

My marriage was one of many pandemic divorces. I don’t need to get into the specifics regarding reasons, but, when it comes to finances, I’m happy to talk details.

We separated in mid-June and finalized the divorce at the end of November. Now that I’m coming up on six months since my divorce became official, I can say — proudly and with great relief — that I feel financially stable.

Here’s how I got there, and how I handled some of the big-ticket items that I shared with my ex.

The house

Our biggest shared asset was our house. Neither my ex nor I wanted to keep it. It was too big and had too much personal history. So in the summer of 2020, just after we separated, my then-husband and I worked together on one last goal.

We put about $15,000 of work into the house, painting, replacing carpet and fixing all the wear and tear. We were able to put the house on the market in late July 2020 and got a full-price cash offer the first day.

We were lucky, despite the work we put in, but my ex and I do give ourselves some credit and say we made the right choice to sell when we did, when inventory was low. 

After the sale, in which we ended up with a profit, I negotiated (via my divorce attorney) a settlement that amounted to the vast majority of the house sale profits. I kept some of the money liquid and used it for moving expenses. With the rest, I invested in a medium-risk portfolio where it will be able to grow and serve as a safety net.

In terms of where I lived after getting rid of my marital home, here is where privilege comes in: I got help from my father, who bought a house in my kids’ school district. I now rent from him instead of a landlord. The house is smaller and less updated, but I adore it. 

Income and bills

My now-ex husband is a dentist and returned to the office in May 2020. Prior to the divorce, I had been the primary caregiver while working part-time. My husband employed me at his dental practice as the marketing and social media manager, and I also worked part-time as a drama teacher.

With the divorce went the steady paycheck at the dental practice. And of course, theater is still not happening, either, so I had to get creative about new forms of income. I had the liquid cash from selling our house, but I wanted to be proactive.

So, I began tutoring. It started with one student in my home along with my daughter during distance learning. Since I had shared custody of my kids, there were suddenly days and nights where I wasn’t parenting — and that’s when I got most of my work done.

I masked up and met with tutoring clients on porches or over Zoom. I wrote curriculum for an educational startup and started writing for a friend’s company, Wondergrade, an app for kids and parents that teaches mindfulness skills. I upped my “pitching game” and started writing more freelance articles. 

Knowing I had a buffer for a few months while I got organized helped me take the leap. But I also cut down on monthly expenses since I'm not feeding a family of four everyday.

Per my divorce agreement, I am responsible for 25% of kid expenses (we decided upon this ratio to reflect the disparity of income between my ex-husband and me). My “kid expenses” went way down, especially since the pandemic kept us home and out of extracurricular activities for a year.  The divorce also meant I lost the burden of my ex’s student loans and other debts. Even though divorce is never easy, I ended up feeling more stable and in control of my own finances. 

Of course, other costs increased, such as getting my own health insurance. And my taxes were a mess of W-2s and 1099s. But overall, I made it out of 2020 with some steady clients and a consistent stream of income. My income, along with spousal and child support paid my bills, gave me enough for some necessary home purchases like a new furnace, as well as some room to spend on fun items like a new bed and a post-vaccine trip to see a friend. 

 I keep very close tabs on my spending and have a detailed Google Sheet for my budget, as well as one for "kid expenses" so my ex can reimburse me as per our agreement. 

My future

I had a retirement account through my previous teaching job that I was able to roll over into a traditional IRA. When the house sold, I put some of the profits into a Roth IRA. Finally, through the divorce settlement, my ex rolled over a portion of his retirement fund into my traditional IRA.

Consolidating retirement accounts wasn't too terribly complicated once I sat down and took care of it. The most important part of that process was making sure I had the “right kind” of retirement account to have a roll over that didn’t penalize me. I asked a friend who works in finance for help.

When rolling over funds or starting a new retirement account, make sure you read all the paperwork carefully to avoid fees and don't be afraid to ask a trusted professional for advice.

What life is like today

Becoming a single mother and head of household during the pandemic was not particularly fun or easy. Some of my greatest fears came true, and my family’s whole life changed literally overnight.

I learned to ask for help, both in terms of tangible help and in the form of advice. My friends and family gave me solicited and unsolicited advice on everything from brands of ant repellent to which credit cards had the best rewards.

I had to pick and choose what advice to take and often sought out multiple expert sources, but, through this whole process I am thankful for the people in my life — the smart, capable adults who helped me realize that I can independently handle my finances and my future.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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