The Opportunity of Single Parenthood–Taking Control


The last few days, I’ve gotten four calls from single parents…okay, moms…asking for guidance with a divorce or parenting issue. Not unusual, considering I’m a single parent too. Though I did get married last weekend to a wonderful man, I’ll always be a single parent of these two amazing boys. And their dad will be too. That’s the nature of the divorce beast.

Yesterday, a mom called in a panic, needing advice. She’d gotten the family home in her divorce last year but her mortgage is starting to drown her. She felt cheated by her divorce attorney who didn’t tell her that taking the family home in a divorce can cause financial meltdown to a woman down the line if she’s not the primary breadwinner.

As moms, we think we need to keep the home intact in a divorce for the sake of the kids. What we don’t realize is that because we earn 72 cents for every dollar a man makes, it doesn’t take long to start feeling the squeeze even with maintenance and/or child support. Statistics from 1994 stats are the most recent:

The tone in this mom’s voice was frightened. Her husband still co-owns the home and is obligated on the note. He won’t let her sell short and she’s about to go into foreclosure. He’s being difficult, obstinate, vindictive. She’d been wounded and was on the verge of tears.

Holy moly, have I been there. My instinct was to first tell her to sell or let it go into foreclosure. Give up. Walk away. No…run. Don’t let the need to keep the family home sink you.

But that would be to tell her that she’d lost, that she was going to let her ex-spouse continue to pull the strings from afar by his unwillingness to cooperate and keep her from her own true power and mastery over her life and financial affairs.

A common theme among the single moms I speak to is a feeling they’re being whipped around by the world—the tail of the dog. But at divorce, we have the opportunity to start wagging the tail ourselves. So instead of telling her to run away, I suggested she run headlong right into it–

Her home had a $1700/month mortgage payment. 5000 square feet. Four years old.

Bingo! A superb rental property and source of passive income! Rather than being frightened into foreclosure, it’s time for her to take charge and be a land baroness.

Unsure of what to do or how that looks, we talked through the steps to get there. Concrete actions she can take right now to take control of her financial situation. Spread the word, call her friends, send a flyer out to her neighbors, get on Facebook, Craigslist, Twitter even. Pray. Pray. Pray for the right renter. Pre-qualify them with a credit check and references. Take a deposit. Sign a lease. Find and move to a smaller place. Collect check. Watch equity grow passively. Like many women, she was scared of what her ex-husband might do if she rented it out. Ahh, here’s a nugget of gold for her. I asked her what her girlfriends would say about her renting out instead of selling. “Bravo!” is what they’d say. And if her ex wanted to give her a hard time, he can file a motion and tell it to a judge.

So many of us feel victimized by our past, powerless in our present, men and women alike, often by the people we once vowed to love, honor, and cherish. But the thought that her ex-husband could control every little thing she did is an illusion to be challenged. For this mom, and all of us, there is opportunity to take control of our own destiny and see the future as full of possibility and refuse to be limited by other people’s illusions of control.

Years after my own divorce, I see the road I chose was pretty scary. I left financial security for total uncertainty and the chance to live my life on my own terms. The mom who called yesterday reminded me of the fear I had when I stepped out on my own. And how worthwhile it is to conquer it.

Because, if there’s one thing I know, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”


About the Author - Martha Hartney

A later-in-life attorney, Martha Hartney opened the practice in 2010 to serve the people she loves because she is committed to helping moms and dads bring their greatest gifts into parenting fearlessly and with joy and making sure children are completely cared for if something happens to their parents.

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