Photo: Marc Royce
Q: I am 42 years old and have decided to end a 15-year marriage. I've been a stay-at-home mother for 12 years. I let my husband handle our finances, and he has left us with a load of credit card debt. Other than our home, he says there is no source of money for child support or anything else. I have a part-time job that pays $12 an hour. I'm scared; what should I do?
A: Step one is to give yourself some credit. It takes serious inner resolve to make such a momentous change, especially when the financial impact is so daunting. If you have the strength to follow through on such a big decision, I'm confident that you can re-create your life.
Stop taking your husband's word about your assets and debts, and hire a good lawyer to dive into the details. I know it's hard to think about the father of your children in these cold terms, but divorce requires practicality. I also want you to try to get a credit card in your name only so you can start building a credit profile apart from the one you have with your husband. You need a good credit score to be able to get the best deals on loans and insurance. If you don't qualify for a regular card, visit CardTrak.com and search for a secured credit card. That can be a great "training wheels" option to get you going.
It sounds like there's some nice equity in your house. I would sell it as part of the divorce to free up money you can use to rent a new place and pay off some of your debt. Remember, all debt accrued during marriage is your joint responsibility, regardless of who ran up the tab. Once you and the lawyers agree on who will pay what portion of the debt, transfer the balances to your independent cards and close down all joint accounts.
Next, look for full-time work that pays more. This is a tough time for job hunting, so you may need to head back to school to brush up on old skills or learn some new ones. Your local community college can be an affordable resource. Arrange to meet with a career counselor to discuss hiring trends in your area. You can do this! Be a warrior, and don't turn your back on the battlefield.
From the November 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine