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Starting over financially after divorce and debt

Alyssa Pry
Personal Finance Reporter

Janice Schacter Lintz was living what she described as a “comfortable and very extravagant lifestyle” before her 10-year-long divorce plunged her into six-figures worth of debt.  

Previously, Lintz, now a hearing loss consultant and advocate, lived in a townhouse on the Upper East Side, had a home in the Hamptons, and travelled often with her family.

“I never really thought much about money during that time,” she admits.

But that lifestyle was like living in a bubble, she says. “It was not healthy, [and] I needed to make a change.”

Unfortunately, the costs for lawyers and court fees during her divorce “decimated me,” Lintz says. While she thought she was wealthy, her money was considered part of the marital estate, and couldn’t be used to pay for legal fees, she says.

“So if one spouse has money and the other spouse doesn’t have money, the non-money spouse has to go to court and ask [to be compensated] for legal fees,” Lintz says. “I had no income stream coming in. He had new money coming in that wasn’t attached to the marital estate,” as he was working as an attorney.  

Her legal costs quickly added up.

“My first attorney charged $25,000 and went through this in three weeks,” she says. “Think about over the course of 10 years how much he would spend. It’s a runaway train.”

Lintz says there was no solution to stop the debt from piling up.

“You can’t stop it. You can go through $150,000 per year in no time,” she says. “I have to say there really is no solution. It is the person with the most money wins, period.” In the divorce settlement, Lintz was given a payout of $855,440, or 17% of the $5 million worth of her ex-husband’s partnership in his legal practice.

After the divorce was finalized, Lintz had to make some major changes to her financial life to start attacking that looming mountain of debt. While she says she was previously unaware of her bills and expenses while she was married, Lintz now had to become much more financially savvy.

“I started with a fine-tooth comb going through every single bill looking for money, looking for waste,” she says.

Aside from moving out of her Upper East Side townhouse, she also sold her car, got rid of her landline, and cut her cable, expenses that added up to huge savings.

She also took advantage of credit card points, and paid her attorney fees with credit cards to get sign-up bonuses.

“I treated it like a game,” she says. “I was like, this is kind of fun, let’s see what we can save money on,” she says.

Lintz says the experience made her healthier financially, and she encourages women to educate themselves to avoid being blindsided like she was.

“I think it’s really important for women to become educated on their finances and not to get in the position I was of not being aware what your finances are,” she says.

Now, Lintz says, her new life is much more fulfilling.

“I feel like I’m at least moving forward and I’d rather have significantly less and be happy,” she says. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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