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Returning to Work After Divorce

By Mary Salisbury November 20, 2023 Family

When divorce occurs, what was enough to retire on, when you both lived in the same house, can become barely enough to live comfortably, or worse. Many of my mediation cases involve a stay-at-home parent, usually moms.

It takes a while to emotionally come to terms that your lifestyle will change during and after your divorce. Going back to work is a change that is scary and hard to accept, particularly if you have not worked in a really long time!

There is loss of prestige, loss of your social life and your way of living. Fearing rejection from potential employers and lacking confidence in your modern work skills is normal. You may feel that a “deal” was made that you would not have to work, and you feel that deal should be kept.

Divorce Will Likely Reduce Your Standard of Living

The reality is that most women who were stay-at-home moms do not recover their standard of living after divorce. Sadly, many end up living close to poverty level upon retirement. Going back to work is a reality you need to face sooner rather than later. 

Existing assets will be depleted if you remain unemployed or underemployed. Making smart divorce decisions like going back to work will provide you a better chance at a secure retirement.

If You Can Work, Judges Often Expect It

Some attorneys may advise you to not return to work during the divorce. I have seen this backfire. Women have wasted years where they could have been building job skills and increasing their income only to find themselves with spousal support that is far lower than expected.

If your attorney is encouraging you to not work during the divorce, I strongly encourage you to have a direct discussion with them about the average support they have seen granted. Keep in mind every judge, even in the same city, has a different idea about support and their rulings can be inconsistent.

Women judges have often raised kids and worked full time during their marriages and may not be sympathetic to your cause.

The Deal You Made in Your Marriage to Stay at Home Is Probably Over

In mediation, the working spouse usually tells me that they would find it unfair to have their lifestyle severely decline to support an ex-spouse who wants to continue to stay at home. They also do not feel it’s fair that they must postpone their retirement to support a spouse who does not want to get a job.

The working spouse envisions themselves working until they are 70 or beyond. For these reasons, during mediation the working spouse asks that some level of job income be “imputed” upon the non-working spouse.

Look for the Positives and Rise to the Challenge!

Technology has changed a lot since you have been out of the workforce, but that knowledge can be learned in a short period of time. There are online courses on YouTube, Thinkific and LinkedIn Learning where you can learn the skills you need for little or no money.

You can get a jump start by learning those skills while you are anticipating divorce but are still at home. Getting formal education may not be financially smart or necessary because it postpones the inevitable and may not necessarily result in enough additional income to be financially justified. Going back to school is sometimes just a coping mechanism because working is much scarier than going to school.

Working May Boost Your Self-Esteem and Be Fun!

Going back to work can help build your self-esteem and after divorce, everyone needs that boost! Being a stay-at-home parent can be thankless!! Your kids don’t often thank you for a job well done and there is no paycheck.

Being told by your boss that you are doing a great job and getting a raise can be a huge boost for your self-confidence and self-esteem. Women who rise to the challenge – even if they have a job that pays a fraction of their ex-husband’s income – seem to be much happier and well-adjusted post-divorce.

Going back to work can improve your social life. At work you will have new activities and challenges to think about. You will be meeting new women and men and starting new friendships. Maybe you will even find romance in the workplace!


Let’s Have a Conversation:

Did you get less spousal support than you thought, and did you go back to work? Do you regret not starting a job sooner? Have you found your work fun and has your social life changed?

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After almost 2 decades of being self employed, I found myself in the job market, which was necessary for me to survive as head of my own household. It has not been easy but I have made it work. Hardest part for me has been being “managed” by people who are in some cases younger then my adult children. That has been very very hard to swallow.

Last edited 5 months ago by jodie

Unfortunately, in our society today, women must never make the mistake of being stay at home moms. I always worked and found that raising children while working full time was exhausting and I was often envious of my sister who stayed at home with her children. Fast forward 20 years and we were both divorced but since I had always worked and had my own social security, pension, and investments, I had no trouble supporting myself post divorce. My sister only got a job when divorce was looming. Having been out of the workforce for so long meant that she lacked skills and was never able to make the kind of money she would have made if she had always had a career. She accrued no pension ( pensions having disappeared for workers while she was a stay at home) and her husband was younger than she and so she wasn’t able to collect social security in his name. Any envy I felt when we were young and she was a relaxed stay at home mom while I was a harried career woman certainly passed when I realized how there is no safety net if you choose to stay home. Divorce or early death of a spouse is fairly common and these events leave a non-working woman in bad straits.


This is so true! A woman who did not develope job skills and expected to be paid for her entire life is a disaster waiting to happen.

Allison Johnson

I divorced at 57, I am now 65. My x husband is 7 years older. I worked all my married life , raised two daughters who are now in their forties. I only wish I would have gotten financial advise instead of running to the first attorney that contacted me. After 32 years of marriage , it’s safe to think you will get fair treatment working or not working. Don’t go into a divorce blindly. I had everything including my own wardrobe taken from me. I received a portion of an IRA, at 57, i thought that was great. I had to use it. I am still paying the IRS , 350,000 minus 30% in taxes and penalty for early withdrawal has been tough. There were no supporting financial documents. He received the home , all vehicles (3), the interior of the home, his pension and social security totaling over 5k a month. He never complied with the agreement. I changed careers and bring in a forth of what he does, retired.. I filed. I ran to the first unexperienced Lawyer,. Be smart. Working has kept me stable and motivated, I wish I knew back then what I do now.

Mary Salisbury

That’s a tough story Allison. It’s unfortunate family law has turned into “he who has the most money to pay an experienced attorney” wins. Not having access to financial docs is a huge deficit. Planning for a divorce is very important. You sound positive though, so good for you.


Never rely on another person to put the food in your mouth and the roof over your head. Only have as many children as you yourself can afford emotionally, physically and financially. Marriages end 50% of the time. I never took that risk. I am financially secure and do not have to worry about my partner leaving me or afraid to leave if I want to. That’s real security.

The Author

Mary Salisbury is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and Divorce Mediator and the founder of The Right Divorce Solution, LLC. Mary helps clients understand the long-term financial implications of property division, child support and alimony. Mary’s passion is to help couples and individuals have a financially smart and emotionally kinder divorce.

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