Kerry Sutherland. Supplied
Kerry Sutherland. Supplied

OPINION: Facing the harsh financial reality of divorce

By Kerry Sutherland Time of article published Aug 5, 2019

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In love today, married tomorrow, but divorce is happening ever more regularly, and your relationship could place you at financial risk.

Despite misconceptions, women continue to be at a financial disadvantage, earning less for the same jobs. Older women also are less likely to have substantial retirement savings than men. While many people perceive women generally "do well" when they get divorced, this is in fact a misconception.

The average monthly salary in the formal non-agricultural sector according to Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Employment Statistics is about R20855, and a divorce will see a woman paying all household running expenses with little to no financial support from her newly ex-husband, simply because he’s unable to do so.

It is mostly in the small high net worth sector of South Africa that women are better off after a divorce, but this is far from the norm.

For this reason, the average woman should carefully consider a divorce, even if she’s extremely unhappy in her marriage, simply because of the financial risks she might face. All women should always understand budgeting and investments.

Believing in a "happily ever after" is far too great a risk. Relying heavily on the other spouse for financial support is always a risk, although it is more common with women believing that their husband will give them and their children financial support forever.

Statistics South Africa’s most recent figures showed that four in 10 divorces (44.4percent) of the 25326 in 2016 were marriages that lasted for less than 10 years.

With many incidences of maintenance defaulters, a woman must always look after herself financially with her own savings. For the man who marries a woman for her money, a well-structured contract will protect her against any ill deeds.

One way to avoid this risk is to ensure one’s marriage contract is correctly set up.

If she wishes to keep all the assets she accumulated over the years before marriage, out of the marriage, then she must get married out of community of property. If she believes that the assets she accumulates during marriage should not be split 50/50 after a divorce, then marriage out of accrual is recommended.

In recent years I am seeing more often the scenario where the financial position of a woman who was primary breadwinner pre-divorce is better post-divorce. To deal with running a household on a single income, a woman might have to relocate to a smaller house or downgrade her car.

Women who have taken a break from work to bring up their children should up-skill and get back to work as soon as they can. This can be difficult after a divorce when one’s confidence could have taken a knock.

The break in earning also means lost years of retirement contributions and growth. Upon returning to work, monthly contributions to retirement funds must be increased, as this is the most tax effective and cost-effective way to save. Budget carefully, avoiding debt such as personal loans or credit cards can help. To decrease reliance on maintenance payments, I recommend ensuring as low as possible living expenses.

Kerry Sutherland is a senior wealth manager at Alexander Forbes.

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