Divorce and FIRE: Unburnt MD
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Thank you for stopping by for another installment in my Divorce and FIRE series.
I have been thrilled with the support and comments shown by my readers to these individuals who have really opened up and shared with us a very traumatic time in their lives.
Every person who has submitted their story has told me that they were touched by the outpouring of comments.
I hope that this inspires others to continue this series by submitting their own tales of divorce.
The following submission is from Unburnt MD (I absolutely love this name as it gives inspiration to those who are burnt out that you can indeed actually recover from it).
It was serendipitous that UnburntMD left a comment on a previous Divorce & FIRE post and mentioned that she too went through a difficult divorce.
Intrigued, I asked her if she would like to further elaborate on her story in the hopes that I could publish it on my platform.
I consider myself extremely lucky that she took me up on the invitation.
Thanks to XRAYVSN for putting together this series on Divorce and FIRE.
I read a fair bit of FIRE content out there and think this very common event doesn’t get much discussion.
Bear market, bull market, safe withdrawal rate, health care costs…yes!
Divorce…who me? No way!
I’m a mid-forties, female physician with two elementary aged kids, on the path to FI.
I divorced after 18 years of marriage and am now happily remarried.
While the divorce itself was hard, I am happier than I have ever been in my life and my finances are better.
“John” and I met at a party in the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college.
He was four years older than me, but still working on an extended college stint in another state.
He had partied hard the first couple of years in college, failed out and had to start over with tech school and eventually into a university pursuing a different degree.
I chose to see this as a bootstraps story of growing up, gaining some wisdom, etc.
I still think that’s fair enough given the circumstances at the time.
Of course, 40 year old me can see some red flags in the party stories and failing out, but hindsight is 20/20.
We dated for the next three years, while we both finished college.
We were in love.
We lived in separate towns, but saw each other most weekends and lived together in the summers.
There was a lot of drinking and socializing, but it seemed normal to me at the time.
We decided to get married before I started medical school.
We married in 1996 and bought our first home.
I attended medical school and he worked in a starter job in his field.
We definitely had some very rocky times in the first couple of years and I actually thought of divorce, but in my mind, you got married and stayed married no matter what.
While there were rocky times, we had a lot of good times, too.
We both loved to socialize with friends, travel and enjoy the outdoors.
The years before kids were full of adventure.
Before we had kids, the problems in the marriage were easier to ignore.
During the years right after I finished residency, John switched career paths from a job with fairly set hours to a career in sales with a lot of flexibility.
While this was great for our travel plans, it did not lead to his contributing a lot to the overall income and certainly we never depended upon it.
Enter our first child.
We had waited twelve years to start a family and we felt excited and ready.
Prior to the birth of our son, we had been busy making every financial mistake in the book (I could totally rival your series on this, xrayvsn!).
This was during the height of the last real estate boom and we were going to be RICH!!!
I also started an expensive business while working as an employed doc full time and completely underestimated the work of having a new baby.
Our son was born in 2008, when things really started crashing with the economy.
I closed the business at a huge loss, we eventually were way underwater on multiple properties and we packed up and moved across the country in the midst of all this.
You’d think that all that stress and the subsequent bankruptcy would be the root of the marriage’s demise, wouldn’t you?
But, not really.
Fortunately, a physician’s salary allows for a lot of mistakes and recovery.
We trimmed down our lifestyle, started from scratch financially and actually saved up about 100k over a couple of years.
There were still problems in the marriage and they were becoming more evident at this time, but we decided to have baby number two anyway.
What problems, you say?
Well, kids are a LOT of work, in case you haven’t heard.
Having two very small kids is stressful and John wasn’t working for a couple of years.
Not working outside the home but not being a stay at home dad either.
We had daycare and the majority of childcare, housework and household management was done by me.
A lot of anger and resentment was building up on my side during this time.
Eventually, John started working again (yay!).
At first this was a relief and things felt better between us.
Then, he started to go out after work with his coworkers.
Initially, no big deal, enjoy some adult time, etc.
Over time, this began increasing more and more and became a big problem.
He was going out drinking at least five nights a week and would often stay out well past midnight.
I spent a lot of energy trying to keep things afloat and an appearance of a happy young family.
He had difficulty getting along with others and had an incident with our landlord that got us evicted.
Part of me very much knew that things were on shaky ground, but I was still committed to making things work or appear to work.
We (gulp) decided to buy a doctor house after the eviction.
Almost all of the money we had saved went into the down payment.
Now we had a beautiful new house, new expenses and a new appearance to maintain.
I kept telling him that this behavior was unacceptable and I would leave him if it continued.
He did not believe me, did not believe he had a problem and felt I was in the wrong for trying to control him.
After a very bad drinking incident, I convinced him to go to counseling.
It was a disaster, but really proved the catalyst to the divorce.
John felt ambushed and betrayed at the counseling session.
He was extremely angry afterwards and made some threatening statements about taking our children away.
This went on for several days.
However, having told someone what was actually happening at home and having the opportunity to see it through an outsider’s eyes was incredibly helpful.
I think when you’re in a long term relationship, things can get so warped but so slowly that it is hard to see clearly on your own.
We had been married for seventeen years at this point and together for twenty.
I decided to get my ducks in a row and leave the marriage.
I took a couple of weeks to prepare and did it all in secret as I was scared of his reaction.
I consulted several lawyers and decided on one and we moved forward.
John’s parents funded an attorney for him that was known for making doctor’s pay in divorce!
I spent around 30-40k on the attorney and associated costs.
Eventually, I moved into an apartment while also still making the house payment while we waited for the sale.
I was back to living paycheck to paycheck and even had to ask my dad for a couple of short term loans.
The financial piece was somewhat stressful, but my worry over the kids and custody was much larger.
I worried so much before I left about whether this was right for the kids, but I fairly shortly saw that I had been hurting them by staying in such a dysfunctional environment.
My older son’s behavior in preschool improved dramatically within a couple of weeks of the separation.
It took over a year for the separation agreement to get finalized and I could breathe more easily.
I had primary custody of the kids and he had every other weekend.
He lived with his parents, so I felt the children were in a safe environment.
The kids and I were very happily downsized into a modest apartment.
The doctor house eventually sold at a substantial loss (I lost 80-90k on it) but I was grateful not to have to float the payments anymore.
And, then there’s the alimony… If you’re married long enough and your incomes are very disparate, the higher income spouse is required to pay alimony in my state.
Despite the alcohol problems, I was on the hook for a substantial payment for the rest of my life.
Oh, how I howled!
But, I howled briefly and more or less made peace with this payment for my freedom.
I never thought it wasn’t worth it.
Unlike some of your other posters, I was very excited to date again.
I think a deep part of me had wanted to leave for many years but I hadn’t really allowed myself to acknowledge it.
I wasn’t planning to get remarried anytime soon, if ever.
All my fantasies of the future included myself raising two children on my own.
I went on multiple dates and dated a couple of nice guys, but nothing serious for a while.
Then, happily, I met someone and basically got hit over the head with a sledgehammer.
Sounds corny, but so be it.
I upended all my well laid plans of work, location, etc and got married after a year of long distance dating.
We’ve been together for four years and are very happy.
Of course, there have been bumps in the road…combining families, meshing successful lives, dealing with exes on both sides, but we’re very lucky and our marriage continues to grow stronger.
Here is where the story takes an unexpected and pretty sad turn.
John died unexpectedly last year.
Fortunately, his death was unrelated to his ongoing, very unhealthy lifestyle.
That, of course, has changed much in terms of my finances and life.
Obviously, alimony is gone.
The kids are with me all of the time.
Gone is the ongoing worry about his substance abuse and my kids safety and emotional health.
The change in my finances allowed me to cut my hours to part time.
This has made a HUGE difference in my work satisfaction and life happiness in general (future posts all their own!).
I have plenty of time to spend with my kids and that has been very important this past year.
They were close to their dad and loved him very much.
All that said, I was surprised by how much I have grieved his death and our marriage since he passed.
We basically grew up together and had many good times together.
We both loved our kids and still shared that bond.
You never know what is coming in life.
Thanks for reading this long story. I hope it helps someone.
If you, or someone you know, would like to submit a Divorce and FIRE story, I would love to hear from you.
You can remain anonymous unless you specifically give permission to reveal your identity.
I have created an outline of some of the topics you might want to consider elaborating on in your submission.
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