Debt and divorce

Couple with finance issues. (Photo: Getty Images)
Couple with finance issues. (Photo: Getty Images)

Everybody experiences divorce differently, but there are a few common factors in most stories.

Most women are financially disadvantaged after a divorce. Why? Because so many of us go into marriage believing we’ll have the fairytale. Our husbands will love us forever, earn a good living, be good fathers to our children, never cheat, never fall prey to drugs, become drunkards or abuse us in any way. We trust our spouses to do the right thing. Even with our finances. The most shocking realisation is always that our knight in shining armour was actually just a bad cartoon character ? in tin foil!

The most obvious negative which comes with divorce is that a two-income household suddenly becomes a one- or no-income household. Mothers are left with the responsibility of raising children and trying to make ends meet on their income only – and hope and pray that their exes show a degree of decency by paying an acceptable amount of child and/or spousal maintenance.

Adding to the strain of the ever-increasing cost of living for a single mother is the issue of debt. This can be debt incurred by her in her marriage, debt incurred by her spouse in the marriage (if they were married in community of property) or even debt incurred by her after the divorce. Your debt needs to be paid.

To all those who live in their lovely glass houses in sunny suburbia and who say things such as “Why do these single mothers take out loans when they know they’re going to struggle to repay them?”, let me put things in context. (This is based on a loose generalisation of working single mothers.)

They work hard. Maybe they even work more than one job. They have to see to the rent, the electricity bill, the school and aftercare fees, the transport costs, the medical and food bills and all other necessities needed to survive everyday life.Exhaustedis no longer a feeling, it’s a way of life! Single mothers are often physically, emotionally and mentally drained!

So when their single salaries and little or no maintenance doesn’t last to the next pay date taking out a loan may be the only way to survive. Not the only way to afford the little luxuries in life – the only way to survive!

There has been a huge increase in unsecured lending from financial institutions and micro lenders. Accurate affordability assessments aren’t being done. People are paying up to 60 per cent interest on a loan and many are paying more than 80 per cent of their salaries to cover personal debt.

I feel too little is being done to protect the vulnerable, suffering consumers of South Africa from unscrupulous money lenders. We need far stricter regulations. We need lending regulations to be monitored, regulated and correctly implemented. It’s easier to try to change the way things are done by lenders than to change the financial circumstances of the masses.

But what can you do if you find yourself in this position? First, let go of the feelings of guilt and shame that come with having debt. There are approximately 10 million consumers with impaired credit records. So in the words of Michael Jackson: you are not alone!

And that is it! In my next blog we’ll look at some practical solutions to solve your debt crisis. But for right now – just let go!  And this goes for all mothers – not just single mothers. Speak to your family and friends about your bad financial situation if you have one. Don’t hold things inside. Chances are many of the people you thought wouldn’t understand your situation are probably in exactly the same situation!

Give yourself some credit for raising your children (and perhaps even raising a husband!) in these tough economic circumstances. Luckily, there are options available for bad financial situations. It’s often not the end of the world. You just have to empower yourself with the knowledge of what your options are.

The light at the end of the tunnel may well be an oncoming train. But it may also be the ray of light to your new financial beginning.

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