It is widely assumed that divorce costs a lot of money. Some reports say that legal fees alone can average $20,000. You could get a decent car instead of a divorce for that kind of money. But what are the long-term implications of divorce? The average woman tends to earn less than the poverty level after a divorce.

I’ve personally witnessed this happen and have encouraged different women to hold off on divorce because they simply couldn’t afford it. You might feel this counseling approach is controversial, but sometimes I’m willing to do what it takes to keep a couple together because time is a phenomenal healer (and incidentally, these women would eventually repair the relationships with their husbands).

I recently read an article by Scott Burns for the Houston Chronicle titled "Divorce shatters shared savings." He references a study done almost 40 years ago by researcher Carolyn Jackson for the Department of Labor.

Burns wrote:

"Here’s how it works. The scale measures the cost of living as an index for families of different composition. The base case, index 100, is a husband and wife, age 35 to 54, with two children, with the older child age 6 to 15. All index numbers rise or fall from there.

A single person under 35, for instance, has an index of 35. When that single person marries another single person, index 35, the index for the combined husband and wife household they become rises to 49. So their cost of living as a couple rises by only 40 percent from the cost of being single. The cost of living per adult is 70 percent of the cost of living alone."

Things get quite interesting when a couple divorces. Take a look at the rest of the article:

"Here are a few examples. Start with the basic index couple, age 35 to 54, with two children. Remember, their cost of living is an index of 100. When they become a single person and an adult with two children, they become an index of 36 and an index of 76. So their new cost of living is a total of 112.

All other things being equal, their cost of living has risen by 12 percent (112/100). To share the same resources equally, each household will see an inevitable standard of living reduction.

How about a younger couple with one child? Their index is 62, and they become a single person, index 35, and a parent with one child, index 40. So their new total is 75, indicating a cost of living increase of 21 percent (75/62). The same young couple with two children would go from a family index of 77 to a single adult, index 35, and one adult with two children, index 67, total 102. That’s an expense increase of 32 percent (102/77)."

Burns concludes his article with the following advice -- if you want to attain wealth in the United States, get married and then stay married. Few people ever really have a solid understanding of how much divorce costs financially. They are somewhat aware of the emotional costs of divorce (somewhat -- it still blows me away when two adults feel that divorce is the best option for their family) but the financial costs are typically quite surprising.

I recently sat down with a couple seeking divorce. In my first session, I realized quickly that neither of them had the money to afford a divorce. After looking at what their budget would be after the divorce, they reconsidered trying to heal the emotional pain rather than add a financial pain.

Some of the romantics reading this article may be boiling over with frustration because I know this must feel very unromantic. But love is not about feelings, it’s about commitment – it’s about a covenant. No matter what, as my dad used to say, love is a decision. That decision won’t always feel or look sexy, but sometimes that decision is all you have.


Michael Smalley and his wife Amy both earned a Master’s Degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois. For the past ten years they have taught millions of people around the world with entertaining stories and illustrations. Michael is currently the marriage and family director at their hometown church in The Woodlands, TX. Michael and Amy are also starting a new center called The Smalley Marriage and Family Center that will provide local pastoral counseling, special intensive retreats, and training for professionals and lay-people.

Michael and Amy have authored or coauthored relationship advice books like Communicating with Your Teen, the Men’s Relational Toolbox, and Don’t Date Naked.

The Smalley's have three children, Cole, Reagan, and David.  They have been married for 11 years.