WTF Friday: How can I maintain my wealthy lifestyle post-divorce


This is the first installment of WTF Fridays, where readers write in with their questions about money and being a single mom.

Dear Emma: WTF?

My husband of 15 years just up and left me for a younger woman. Old story, I know – but I am still in shock. We have three kids ages 12, 10 and 9, a big mortgage in an excellent school district and payments on two German cars – and I’m not talking Volkswagens. My husband has a very successful small business and I’ve been working parttime as a teacher, and he is fighting me tooth and nail to pay as little child support and maintenance as he can. Needless to say, our lifestyle depends upon his income, yet I am having a hard time proving to the courts that he makes as much as he does because his is mostly a cash business.

I am so furious that he is able to walk away from his family and start life anew with little financial obligation to his kids – or me, for that matter. I am spending what little money I have on a divorce lawyer, but she tells me that even if the court orders him to pay more support, I will likely have to continue to fight to get it – and that may take years. I’m trying to find fulltime work, but find myself spending hours on the Internet and talking to friends and lawyers – all in an effort to figure out how to get more money out of this douchebag. It seems to make more financial sense to invest my time try to get him to pay what he owes, rather than looking for more teaching work. Meanwhile I am struggling to stay afloat so my kids can continue to live in the lifestyle my husband and I planned for them.

What can I do?

Exhausted and broke in Hoboken


Dear Boken,

Your signature says it all: you’re exhausted! You and your kids need money. But more than that, you need energy to launch the fabulous new life you are about to create. There are two pieces of advice I can offer:

1)      Fight on behalf of your kids.

2)      Put your energy into only what you can control.

These may seem like conflicting messages, but they are not. On one hand, your ex certainly has a legal and moral obligation to support his children. A court will likely find that he has a responsibility to support you, too – at least for some time. Your responsibility as a mother is to get as much of this money for your children as you can — within reason. But as your lawyers said, this looks like it will be a long and ugly fight. Who knows how it will end.

How will you pay the bills in the meantime?

And maybe just as importantly, how will you provide the emotional support that your kids need if you are spending all your energy being angry and fighting?

Enough lecturing. Here is what you will do:

  1. Assess how you spend your energy. Notice this is Step No. 1. If you spend all your energy on revenge, getting your due and fighting your ex — that is all negative energy. What if you put that same energy into building your own career, wealth and family? In that case, the sky is the limit! Meanwhile, fighting your ex may get you a court-ordered settlement and a moment of satisfaction. But he’ll still be richer than you. And he’ll still be screwing that hussie.
  2. Move forward with all legal proceedings to get your and your kids’ fair share of your ex’s money. Dig down deep into your soul and decide what you think is a fair sum. Rise above your anger. Take the necessary steps to get that number. Accept that you may not.
  3. Make a plan to support your kids on your own financially. Does this mean a fulltime teaching job? Pursuing another career? Going back to school for advanced degrees?
  4. Accept that you will likely be broke for a while. Mothers usually are after divorce. But this will be temporary if decide that it will be temporary.
  5. Get a grip on your expenses. You cannot afford your sweet address any more. That is sad, but even sadder would be to stay put in an abode that you will likely be kicked out of by your bank. That Benz? Swap it out for a Hyundai. Is there a way you can rent or buy and still stay in your school district? Get serious and practical.
  6. Accept that your lifestyle will change. You are no longer rich like you used to be (and I don’t’ care if you classified yourself as “middle class.” The lifestyle you described puts you in the upper .001 percent of the global population. Consider that for a second.). Accept that is OK. It may be better than OK. It seems there was a lot of denial going on in your life. You were surprised that your husband was unhappy in your marriage. You were surprised to find out he is a dick. You are also surprised that your lifestyle was precarious. Living squarely within reality comes with it a liberty that money cannot buy.  This is one of the most important lessons you can teach your children.
  7. Accept that you are now free to build any lifestyle you want.
  8. Remember my mantra: The best revenge is a life well lived.


Do you have questions for Emma? Send them along on the Contact page, or email emma at

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

11 thoughts on “WTF Friday: How can I maintain my wealthy lifestyle post-divorce

  1. This is great, Emma. In your face but honest and helpful for those who will take a moment to look inside. Divorce hurts, no doubt about it. BTDT. But women can do much better for themselves than waste time being bitter. The guy’s a louse. Good riddance to him. She now gets to build her own life on her own terms. It’s a gift, really.

  2. It’s hard but one of the biggest things to remember is to not bad-mouth the dad or his new partner to your children (which puts them in a difficult decision). Even if you’re faking it, assure them that they are loved by their father, but he’s just made some different choices. This also means, by the way, not trash-talking him to your friends, family, etc. when your children are within hearing distance or may find out what you’re saying.

    1. I agree Chris. It’s all part of the same package: rising above the chaos (and there is always chaos in divorce!) for the sake of the big picture and a brighter future.

  3. Twenty four years after a similar experience, I can tell you that in the midst of starting over without even furniture to sit on, I started my first company, and built it, and my real estate and investments, to a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Ms. Broken, I don’t say that to brag–I say it to emphasize that if I can, you can. I wasn’t the smartest, the prettiest, or the best educated. I wasn’t lucky. And I didn’t (re-)marry a wealthy man. I found the intersection of my passion and expertise and used that to help others, and in so doing, earned a good income, which I invested well. I agree with Emma. Downsize asap and find and fulfill the good plan for your life, and you will, indeed, live well. I have a FREE ebook of success tips to help you get started on my website:

  4. Dear Exhausted and broke in Hoboken, my heart breaks for you. I experienced the betrayal of adultery at the worst possible time in my life, when I was taking care of my mom, dying of cancer, an ocean away. I know how hurt, angry, and exhausted you feel. You just have to look at those kids and imagine the future: Are you the right role model for them? Are you setting the right example? I saw my beautiful house on the lake go, I saw our two Lexus(es) go, I sold an enormous amount of stuff at a garage sale to be able to move from 3500 square feet with a finished basement to a two bedroom roach infested apartment (I did not know that roaches came with the lease, though:)
    The kids are tough. They can take financial hardship in stride. But they need to believe in you and know that you are strong enough to get back on your feet and make a good life for them.
    I wish you all the luck in the world! Happy winds!

    1. Great advice Lana – that is something that I sometimes forget — not just the importance of being strong for its own sake, but showing our kids that they can be tough through adversity.

  5. LW,
    hopefully you come back and read this. GET A NEW LAWYER!!!
    if you are being told that it will be difficult to make him pay court ordered child support, you are being fed a line.
    court ordered child support is taken VERY seriously. Just to start with he can lose his drivers license,and the penalties progress up to federal prison
    (unfortunately the same doesn’t hold true for alimony)
    if you think he is hiding money to reduce his apparent income, and the court doesn’t take it seriously, contact the IRS. he will be audited, and his real earnings reported, which you can take to court, and have payments established reflecting them

    also, if you’re the one they’re living with make sure he doesn’t claim them as dependents on his tax return. you get $1000 each in child tax credit, and can claim up $6000(no more than $3k a head)in qualified child care expenses for your kids until they turn 13

    i don’t know where you found your lawyer, but you may want to contact your local women’s shelter and see who they recommend. usually they are familiar with a few local lawyers who work in family law.

  6. Mari – Your advice is good and your suggestions helpful. I worry, however, about urging women to devote the majority of their energy into fighting their exes for more money — even if they are entitled to it, and may eventually get it. For one, it may not make financial sense if they have to pay a lawyer to get what they are owed. Second, there is the psychological/emotional cost of litigation and courts and lawyer — energy that is often best used to build a career, business and life.

    1. i agree the litigation etc can be draining on your energy
      i just worry that there is too much misinformation/intimidation, and it creates an unnecessary aversion in women keeping them from making the choice best for them
      if somebody chooses not to pursue child support/alimony because they evaluate their options and decide cost/benefits just don’t weigh in favor of doing so, i completely understand.
      if they resign themselves to thinking that they’ll never see the money anyways theres a problem,and i worry that the letter writer was more in this camp.

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