BOOK EXTRACT How to divorce smart

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Divorce Smart: Stats SA says there are on average 25 000 finalized divorces a year  Pictures:supplied
Divorce Smart: Stats SA says there are on average 25 000 finalized divorces a year Pictures:supplied

It’s not something you planned for when you put that ring on your finger. But one in three marriages ends in divorce. It’s not only our second-highest stressor, but women are particularly hard hit in terms of financial vulnerability. Divorce expert Christel du Toit's Divorce Smart is a woman's guide to divorcing well, offering clear, concise information on matters of maintenance, property, medical aid, pension funds and investment. 

Divorce Smart
Christel du Toit
Jacana Media
R160 at takealot.com
189 pages

Divorce. There have been thousands of women before me who have gone through this life challenge and there will be thousands more after me, but I hope that those thousands after me will be a smart and empowered generation.

After reading this book you will be able to make smart and informed decisions. This book is aimed at women and it is written in that way, with the reader assumed to be a woman. But men who are looking for information on how a divorce can be fair, amiable and constructive are most welcome here.

Before I got divorced, I was the average suburban working mum with two children, aged three and five. Much has changed since then. Today I am a director of two successful start-up companies, Divorcesmart and Finsmart Asset Management. They were inspired by my divorce, and today I specialise in financial planning before and after divorce. I embarked on this new life 11 years ago and it has created so much more than I could have imagined. What I also couldn’t have imagined was that I would be divorced which, in hindsight, is rather stupid because according to Stats SA there are on average 25 000 finalised divorces a year.*

I’m okay with being a statistic but what really irked me was that I had no clue what was going on. My ex-husband knew six months before me that he was going to leave the marriage and planned how he would do so. If I had had the same time to plan and think about the financials – about my future – I would have got a better settlement agreement for me and my children. The emotions just outweighed all logical thinking. There was nothing wrong with my 12-year marriage, nothing wrong with me, my kids, the dogs or the cat.

The problem was a third party and there is very little that you or I can do about a third person in a marriage. A third party can be another person or it could be alcohol, drugs or fists. A third party is where the battle started for me. Suddenly I was introduced to deception in my marriage and my life. This created grey areas, self-doubt and confusion. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out what was going on or what I could do to sort out the problems. The trust was broken, my heart was broken, my life was on a knife’s edge and I had very few choices.

All of this happened within a month, while my then husband had a six-month advantage to prepare his finances. He had all the financial information and the opportunity to disguise or hide assets and income. Financially, I felt extremely vulnerable.

Over the years I had handed the financial power to my husband because of that little word “trust”. Suddenly, I had no idea how I was going to survive financially; I had no clue what the expenses were, what the debts were and what income I would need to raise two young boys. But I did know this was not going to destroy me or my children.

I wasn’t a financial adviser at the time, but if someone had given me smart divorce tips and guided me with smart financial advice, I would have been so much better off then and now. So I became the opposite of a wedding planner; I became my own divorce planner. I decided to make smart financial and emotional decisions and, very importantly, I set myself goals. I have adapted them here for you:

Goal 1: Be great at being divorced.

Goal 2: Take full ownership of your financials and change your financial behaviour. It can be hard to change a standard of living you have become accustomed to. For example, a mother and two children may have to move from a house to a small apartment. But it has to be done; on a single income your expenses almost double.

Goal 3: Reduce financial vulnerability by becoming independent of the children’s monthly maintenance as soon as possible, as well as increasing income and replacing your ex-husband’s salary. This will not happen on day one, so you need a smart financial plan.

Goal 4: Take your 50% of the assets and use your savings and investment strategies to double them, then increase them by 200% and then 300% and so on.

Goal 5: Every single rand matters, so stick to a strict budget, change your spending habits and stay away from shopping centres.

Goal 6: Do not rise to the bait if you receive snotty emails and WhatsApp messages. Refuse to respond to communication that is disrespectful or rude. If you get this emotional balance right, your divorce will be much easier.

Goal 7: Look to your new future instead of what you had in your marriage. I can honestly say that only the first month was really tough, but take one day at a time.

Goal 8: The most important thing to understand about setting goals and writing them down is that if you do this, they will happen. I have diaries filled with goals and ideas that I am slowly ticking off.

Goal 9: The last goal I set was to be the very best mother I could be. I have sat in my bakkie waiting for my children outside school and in parking lots. I have driven to schools and back more than I have sat on my couch.

This pink book will focus mainly on the financial matters during and after divorce, and it would give me great pleasure if it changed your and your children’s lives just a little bit. This is an investment in your future, even if you can’t see your new future right now. If you get the financials right, you will be all right. My aim is to empower you to become the most successful minister of finance in your household, be it as a married woman or a soon-to-be single woman. The divorce process is very emotional and this can hamper your financial thinking. In most cases the emotional focus is inward, towards the pain you are experiencing at that moment. But beyond those emotions you have a future. It is a new future that you will have to fund yourself but over which you will have the financial power.

Divorce is a big decision with long-term implications. This book uses an easy-to-understand grid of building blocks to assist you in making smart decisions before and after your divorce. The Divorcesmart blocks address financial, legal, emotional and child-related decisions and the financially smart blocks address your wealth, debt, risk and emergency cash. If you get these first two steps right, then it will be much easier to rebuild your life. Throughout there are smart, practical tips to deal with your divorce. I will guide you and teach you to use these blocks to help you rebuild your life. This book will help you to think smartly so you can live smartly.

There is something I hope your divorce will give you: Something good or great will come from your tragedy and you will develop a set of invaluable skills, such as:

. Endurance;

. Perseverance;

. Resourcefulness;

. Financial smarts;

. Kindness in the face of adversity; and

. The kind of thinking that will open doors.

I had no say in my divorce and I had no choice to divorce. But it did give me the right to be who I wanted to be afterwards. It has given me all the choices in the world and it has given me a say in every little or big decision I make for the rest of my life. If I have to divorce again, I will do it by the book. This book!

Rules to remember

  • Divorce with zero debt or as little debt as possible;
  • Learn to exercise the “Fifth Amendment”: You have the right to remain silent and the right to take a social media sabbatical;
  • Three things you should invest in are your family, your skills and the equity market. Of these three, the equity market is the easiest. Just sign a debit order for an investment product and forget about it;
  • If your spouse had an affair, the problem is not you. There is nothing wrong with you. Move on;
  • Everybody is replaceable. If you were replaced by someone else, just remind yourself that that person is also replaceable;
  • If you have not signed a divorce settlement agreement within three to six months, someone is hiding assets;
  • Say your prayers and then fight for what is rightfully yours;
  • Do not make your problems your children’s problems (I refused to cry in front of my children.);
  • Having no choice is sometimes a great choice, especially in the longer term; and
  • Put on your big-girl panties. If you don’t have a pair get help from your financial adviser.

*Stats SA, Marriages and divorces 2016, released on May 30 2018: http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0307/P03072016.pdf (accessed 24 August 2018)

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