It’s All About the Divorce Gap: Ending Isolation for Divorcing Women

Edna Gomez-Green of the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation (Photo credit: Fresh Start)

Divorce is often a difficult process, and it disproportionately leaves women struggling with financial challenges. As we covered in regard to MacKenzie Bezos’ settlement, after a divorce, men’s standard of living generally rises by about 33%, while women’s drops by about 20%. Other studies have shown that women’s income after divorce drops by an average of 41%. These stats outline the divorce gap, one of many overlapping economic gaps women continue to face, including the wage, debt, unpaid labor, funding, investing and “pink tax” (consumer pricing) gap.

The Divorce Gap

There are many reasons women can find themselves struggling after a divorce; some stop working to raise kids during marriage and then find it difficult to re-enter the workforce and earn adequately. Others take on full-time caregiving for the first time after a divorce, which can conflict with their career paths and keep them from making enough to support their families. Some women haven’t chosen or been able to invest independently for the future and find themselves without a safety net or backup plan. The other financial gaps all come into play. Women are generally paid less, have more debt, receive less funding, invest less and are charged more for products designed for them. And the unpaid labor gap is significant here; women often take on care giving, housekeeping and other crucial contributions to families and societies that are uncompensated.

One study by the investment banking company UBS found 56% of women “defer” to their spouses on investment decisions and financial planning. Many couples refrain from talking about their financial future, the possibility of divorce or prenups. Women (and men) may find the family law court system complex and inaccessible. The alimony or child-support awarded may not be enough to meet a woman or family’s needs. And divorces can be expensive, ranging from around $250 for simple, amicable procedures up to more than $100,000, with an average estimate in the range of $15,000 to $30,000, according to The Atlantic. Paying for utilities, basic needs and life’s unexpected costs during this time of uncertainty and change can be challenging. Issues like child custody and domestic abuse make these matters more difficult and even dangerous for women. There are many ways feminist philanthropy can support women going through these complex processes.

Programming and Philanthropic Solutions to the Divorce Gap

The Fresh Start Women’s Foundation in Arizona sets an example of how a community-based organization can help women in various transitions. It provides education, social services and other resources to women, aiming to help “every woman [reach] her full potential through achieving personal empowerment and financial self-sufficiency.” It offers social worker-led support groups and mentoring, educational scholarships, technology and career advancement training and resources, community volunteer support and family law services. Fresh Start is funded by Allstate, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Thunderbirds Charities, The Dorrance Family Foundation, Moreno Family Foundation and others.

Fresh Start Family Law Support Manager and Certified Legal Document Preparer (CLDP) Edna Gomez-Green says there are three main challenges women face regarding divorce; lack of access to affordable legal representation, lack of information about relevant legal issues, and lack of a support system, both “for women going through a divorce and after the divorce is final.” Women also often face isolation in the process of ending relationships and suffer from deep cultural stigmas around divorce.

Fresh Start’s programming addresses many of these needs. Through the family law program, it provides classes by attorneys and other professionals, reduced-fee document preparation, referrals to free or low-cost attorney consultations, and a “Law Day for Women,” with one-one-one question-and-answer time with volunteer attorneys.

Gomez-Green says the foundation’s social work and resource team offer individualized services for women going through divorce “and facilitate both open and closed support groups to connect them with other women working through similar challenges.” The Fresh Start Foundation serves about 5,000 women every year. In 2018, it held 1,656 family law sessions and helped 715 women who requested assistance with a family court matter.

“Women going through a divorce benefit the most when they are prepared to go through the divorce process. Knowing the law, their rights and having the ability to advocate for what is fair and appropriate is what they seek the most,” she tells us.

Gomez-Green points out several ways philanthropists can support women in these situations. For divorcing women, donors can offer scholarships or funding to cover filing fees, document preparation, attorney consultations and “limited-scope [or] full-matter representation, for matters involving children, complex circumstances or high-conflict, when the other party is represented.”

For women who are already divorced, she says funding for transitional housing, job training, education and child care can help “women and mothers to become self-sufficient.” The more informed and financially stable divorced women are, the better they can practice self-care, pursue their ambitions, provide for their families and invest in their communities.

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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

2 thoughts on “It’s All About the Divorce Gap: Ending Isolation for Divorcing Women”

  1. Even the most savvy and intelligent women find themselves in situations of financial abuse. Demands of daily living chores, household duties, and caring for kids, although wonderful to be able to choose to stay at home, may lead to financial reliance on spouses without realizing the harmful consequences. Add the inability to earn the same salary or even obtain employment similar to when a mother left to raise the kids, it is very disheartening and unjust.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Stephanie. As a therapist, I have seen many women lose significant financial ground over the course of a divorce. There needs to be a change of culture where we begin to recognize the value of women’s labor and family role and build more supports for women into divorce settlements.

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