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After divorce, a mother needs a financial overhaul and more income

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Adina Jones has spent years immersed in logistics such as financial tracking, transportation organization, nutritional direction and healthcare supervision.

In other words, Jones is a mom.

And until shortly before her 14-year marriage ended last year, Jones was a full-time caregiver for her three daughters.

"I wanted to give them the best start I could," Jones, 40, said of her career hiatus, which began in 2006. "I wanted to be there for them in all ways."

Now, Jones is trying to reenter the traditional workforce and finding it tough.

Despite a bachelor's degree in communications from UC Santa Barbara, experience as a substitute teacher and extensive volunteer teaching and ministry work at her church, Jones hasn't been able to find a job that pays enough to cover her bills.

"I'm making less than $10 an hour as a part-time barista for Starbucks," Jones said. She gets about 20 hours of work a week, "and that's just not going to cut it."

To fee-only financial planner Sandra C. Field, Jones' situation highlights the potential perils faced by any one-income family.

Although the expense of outside care can be large during a child's early years — in 36 states, the annual cost of day care has exceeded the cost of in-state college tuition, according to Child Care Aware of America — so is the financial vulnerability created when one parent stays home.

"This is certainly going to give some stay-at-home moms … something to think about," Field said, "like getting some job training or education to prepare for a career should they suddenly find the need to reenter the workforce."

Divorce isn't the only risk: There's also the possibility that a partner could unexpectedly die, become disabled or lose a job.

Jones has faced several obstacles as she has sought to build her life as a single woman.

Her last paid job was as a substitute teacher for the Laguna Beach public school district. Her time raising children and working unpaid for her church, she said, "doesn't really cross over well to secular fields."

"I've managed people," Jones said. "I think I have a lot to give. But because my resume is what it is, it's difficult."

Jones has completed most of what is required to earn a full-time teaching credential and a master's degree through course work at National University in Costa Mesa, although she still has to perform a student teaching requirement.

Student loans form the bulk of Jones' roughly $95,000 debt, which also includes $6,000 in credit card bills, amassed primarily during the year she and her husband were separated before their October 2013 divorce.

On the plus side, Jones is keeping expenses down by moving into her mother's Orange County home with her three girls, ages 12, 10 and 6.

Field said Jones has to reduce her monthly expenditures an additional 25% to 30% "until she can get a better-paying job." One reason for the strict budget approach is that Jones needs to pay down a car loan more quickly than the contract requires in order to reduce the size of a $9,000 balloon payment she faces.

Jones has begun to build her negligible savings, with an eye toward establishing an emergency fund to cover three months' worth of expenses. And she has been able to make small contributions to Starbucks' matching 401(k) retirement plan.

Field would like to also see Jones and her ex-husband each begin to contribute $25 to $40 a month to a 529 college savings plan.

"They have three children. This needs to start soon," Field said.

Jones said her manager recently told her she might be able to increase the hours she works and train to become a shift supervisor, which would pay more and put her on a management track.

"I'm very excited about that," she said.

Field said Jones needs to raise her career aspirations while continuing to work in her current job.

"It is time to finish and use the degree," Field said.

Moreover, advancing on the education front would have other benefits.

"Going back to school would defer payment on the loans until six months after graduation," Field said. "After graduation, Adina can consolidate her loans through federal Direct Consolidation and may be able to reduce the interest rates."

Field advised that Jones look at reducing health insurance costs below the $272 a month she currently pays to subsidize coverage under her ex-husband's policy, which also covers the girls. That amount is deducted from Jones' alimony of $600 a month. She also receives $1,900 a month in child support.

Cheaper healthcare coverage would be available to her under Covered California, the state-run healthcare exchange.

Additionally, Jones is entitled under California law to half of the retirement assets that her ex-husband accumulated during their marriage, Field said. Jones said she wasn't aware that she had a right to part of those assets because she had no legal representation in the divorce.

To receive her share — more than $13,000 — Jones should hire an attorney or pension expert to draft a qualified domestic relations order, which would be filed in the court that handled her divorce and would allow a retirement plan administrator to roll over the funds into her name, Field said.

There's also another way in which stay-at-home spouses can be at a disadvantage compared with their paycheck-earning peers: their credit ratings.

After years in which her ex-husband was the primary handler of the household finances and credit cards, Jones' credit scores are around 620. Jones should work to raise them by getting a credit card in her own name and using it to make small purchases and pay them off in full each month, Field said.

"Even if the marriages aren't shaky, if something suddenly happens to the main breadwinner, male or female, is the other spouse going to be prepared to step up?" Field asked. "You never know what the future holds."

Jones said she's ready for the challenges ahead.

"It took a little over a year to get comfortable working again and finally get to the place where now I want more."

ron.white@latimes.com

Twitter: @RonDWhite

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