Flash back five years ago.
After 10-12 years of marriage, my ex husband and I were putting most of our extra money into his 401k account as part of our planning for our future: his job had a direct 100% match. We had begun making plans for our future. After years of diapers, preschools, building our family and settling in our “forever” home, we hoped to save enough money to give the kids a bit of cash to help out with college and for the two of us to retire someday in a warmer climate.
Fast forward 5-or-so years when a long-distance and a too-close-to-home situation occurred when my then husband conveniently forgot he was married, and all of those dreams were shattered (and flushed down the toilet right along with the marriage).
To my ex husband, money really is a security blanket. I get that now. That’s just part of who he is. Me? I’m not really molded that way, but having enough money makes me feel secure (who likes to be broke, really?). Throughout our marriage, we were debt-free for the most part. It was important to us. But he took it a step further and we lived like we had to live paycheck to paycheck, always. I felt broke, always. We didn’t need to live that way. He prided himself on paying extra on our mortgage and contributing extra to our 401k. That’s both a blessing and a curse.
We were lucky we had a retirement account—most people aren’t so lucky. I’m thankful we had the money built up. But really, what good is a nest egg when it’s cracked in half and rotting day-by-day once you get divorced? Let me explain:
Part of the divorce process involves the distribution of assets. Ours was a 50/50 split. He believed in everything being “fair and equal”, so when he wanted 2 of the 4 extension cords, 5 of the 10 plastic bins in the basement (and so on!) it was also decided we split the 401k.
Now, one of the joys (insert sarcasm) of divorce is that if you and your soon-to-be-ex argue about anything, then you each get a lawyer and you hash it out and pretty much pay for the lawyer’s children to go to college instead of your own. I wanted to walk away from the house, the furniture, everything. I just wanted to get away! But I had people telling me to think of the kids and to stay and get half of what we had built. So I did.
The stance I took cost me nearly $13,000 dollars: $200 an hour, to be exact. When my ex husband decided to change his mind after paying for mediation and refused to sign ANYTHING we had agreed to, we went back and forth between our lawyers to agree on a settlement. It took two months, and it got expensive—we didn’t even go to court! I was truly exhausted at that point and just called it over. I didn’t fight to have him pay all of the kids benefits like most ex’s do. Or all of the kids’ medical bills. Or for the entire mortgage. I pay 50% of the kids benefits and bills and paid 100% of the mortgage. I have always (and still do) paid for 100% of their activities and sports (although he’s supposed to pay half)! All of these payments add up to my debt.
Feeding children on a $9 an-hour salary when I worked at their school wasn’t possible. I was paying an $1800 per month mortgage! My only choice was to buy groceries on my credit card back then. Travels to out-of-town tournaments were a priority for my little family, because those activities are part of who my kids are (and I was not going to make them change because their father decided to skip out with a neighbor). Those, too, were put on credit cards. The feeling of being in debt is crippling!
Today, after dealing with lots of back-and-forth and lawyer bills to split our 401k in half, I finally am able to gain access to my half of the nest egg. Will that egg feed me in my old age? No. It will go to paying off a 3 year-old divorce and bills from surviving during the hardest 3 years of my life. I’m so blessed to be able to do this, as I know lots of people who don’t have this luxury.
Am I sad my nest egg will be gone? In a strange way, yes I am. But the two-ton weight that has settled on my back and continually squashed me into the ground every month when I pay payments to those credit cards will now be gone. The day I pay off those bills will be a day of freedom, and I’ll be able to breathe again. The past can be put behind me. The monthly reminders in the mail that whisper to me, “Lori, you might not be able to come up for air ever again.” will now disappear.
I have so much more than the comfort of that nest egg! I have my amazing kids, my own home, my husband, a job I love, and I will be debt free again. I may not have the security of a retirement account come tomorrow, but as my always understanding husband often repeats to me, “I can always make more money.”