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Why Women Struggle With Separation

Women are separating from their partners ill-equipped to cope with money, says Bridgette Jackson of Equal Exes. Brenda Ward finds out what she’s doing to fix this.

7 September 2022

Too many women leave the family finances to their partners, which leaves them poorly prepared if their relationship ends, says separation coach Bridgette Jackson of Equal Exes.

“It’s shocking. On average, 80 per cent of women who approach me at Equal Exes have no concept of their shared marital assets – what they own and what they owe,” she says.

They might start out with a good understanding of family finances but when the woman’s role is to run the family home, she’s often given a credit card or an allowance.

Over time, says Jackson, there’s a ‘disconnect’ that happens, where the woman gradually loses understanding of and control over the couple’s finances.

“Often, they won’t know or will have lost touch with what their spouse earns and key expenses for the home, such as debt, mortgage or insurance.

“This is often coupled with minimal or no knowledge of their investments or retirement savings.”

Statistics show that separated or divorced women often struggle financially.

In New Zealand in 2020, there were 5,973 children under 17 whose parents filed for divorce.

Some of the impacts of this on women include:

  • Five out of six children will live with their mothers after divorce.
  • Women suffer financially more than men after divorce because of unequal wages and earning capacity, and usually have more expenses associated with day-to-day physical custody.
  • Three out of four divorced mothers don’t receive full payments of child support.
  • About one in five women fall into poverty as a result of divorce.

Custody arrangements can make it hard for single parents to work outside of school hours or a typical working day, says Jackson.

“The cost of childcare can also inhibit a single parent working overtime, or in the evenings and weekends.”

In terms of protecting family finances from divorce, Jackson says both men and women have the same issues to contend with, just from different positions.

“It all depends on who has been the main breadwinner and caregiver.”

There are a number of things people need to do before they split from a partner.

  • Find out exactly what your partner earns.
  • Gather copies of tax returns, bank statements, and other documents with information on current joint finances. This includes statements for investments, term deposits and retirement funds like KiwiSaver or superannuation.
  • Make a list of all your joint major items that could be considered assets, such as furniture, jewellery, artwork, property and cars.
  • Work out what the household spends on bills, food and expenses. If possible, go through your accounts for the past 12 months. Document mortgage repayments and interest rates, and list utility costs with other household expenses for each month. Keep track of the cash you spend.

If you’re thinking about separating from your partner, the next step is to set up your own bank account, with a different bank than the one used for family finances, says Jackson.

Then you should learn how to become confident in running your own family finances and investments, she says.

A study by the Financial Services Council says 25.2 per cent of women aged 50 – 59 years admit to having limited or no investing knowledge or experience.

Concerned about this financial knowledge and capability gap she was seeing, last year Jackson approached financial advisers Cambridge Partners about partnering on a programme for women.

Cambridge Partners purpose-built the online financial capability programme ‘Understanding Your Money’.

Says Jackson: “It aims to equip people with the knowledge, tools and support they need to set them on a path towards financial capability.

“Ultimately, we want to see them gain confidence and control.”

She says the course is designed for people who want to educate themselves at home.

“It’s in plain English, and we’ve removed all the technical jargon that confuses people. It can be done at your own speed.”

She says if you need it, there’s also the ability to connect with a real person for support and to answer questions.

Anybody, of any age or life stage, can take themselves through the programme to become more financially confident, aware and debt-smart. It’s confidential and secure.

It tackles many of the issues Jackson sees among her clients:

  • Financial struggles relating to life transitions such as marriage breakups, or the death of a partner.
  • Upskilling of financial capability, so women can become more financially aware and independent, and to educate those wanting to invest and diversify.
  • An understanding of their own ‘money personality’ – how they see, spend and save money.
  • Useful tips on borrowing, spending and saving, such as ways to pay off a mortgage faster and hire-purchase hacks.
  • How to keep financially fit with budgeting and goal-setting.
  • Education about money management, how finances work, and good and bad debt.

Jackson says although New Zealanders are well-known for not talking openly about money, it’s essential for everyone to be financially capable and confident with their money.

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