Sometimes I think we have made significant strides in empowering women to be independent, and then I realize we still have a long way to go. I say empowering women because in most cases I encounter, it’s a woman who is left high and dry when her spouse leaves. The departure is often because of the death of a spouse, but it can also be because of marriage breakdown.
Take the case of a 60 year-old woman, who, after 25 years of marriage, has found herself unexpectedly facing separation and divorce.
During her marriage, she considered herself very fortunate to have a spouse who took care of all the family finances. She enjoyed managing the household and raising the children, and never had to worry about paying the bills – her husband took care of that. The credit card was never maxed out and the ATM always spit out cash.
Now she is working with her lawyer to put together a financial statement – a daunting task for her. When confronted with the need to identify costs to operate a home on her own, she is at a loss. As for personal expenses, it’s only by keeping receipts over the two months since her separation that she is beginning to get a feel for what she will need.
She also delegated her investment decisions to her spouse, so has no idea why or how the investments in her RRSP account were made. She didn’t have a bank account in her own name, or a credit card.
All of this happens at a time when emotions are running high and the financial concerns add significant stress to the situation – whether the separation is due to divorce or death.
So it is tremendously important to be involved in the family finances and to have an understanding of what is happening. This doesn’t mean becoming immersed in the nitty-gritty. What it does mean is discussing finances together and including both spouses in financial planning sessions – something I encourage with all my clients.
And by the way, a reverse argument can be made – husbands should be empowered to be in a position to take care of themselves if they are left on their own. A few cooking, cleaning and laundry chores are good things!