Money, if you don’t have an abundance of it, can be a hardship for a lot of us.
Marriages can come apart as a result of money woes. And if there’s anything more stressful than not being able to pay your survival bills, I’m not sure what it might be, except perhaps terminal illness. But money after divorce can be a nightmare. Even when you are hurt and grieving you have to continue the painful negotiations and discussions about money. If you’ve got kids, you never escape the money matters meeting, but now you have to do it under duress and potentially adverse interests.
But let’s get a few things straight about money and divorce.
1. Money has to be about the kids, and not you.
2. You don’t get to divorce your money obligations.
Even the debts you get assigned to your ex’s account, are part of your financial picture, even if they have gotten removed from your credit report.
3. What was hard to negotiate when you were married becomes nearly impossible when you are divorced.
4. The divorce courts are set up, by legal precedent, to give the mother primary custody and the man the burden of child support.
(In Texas this represents 80% of all divorces.) While this was helpful 40 years ago when my parents go divorced, today it’s not a fair or balanced starting point. But even in cooperative divorce negotiations, this is often the suggested starting point.
5. If you want 50/50 custody and a full split of the expenses, you will probably have to fight out your divorce.
If you can agree early on to split the co-parenting responsibilities, just as you agreed to 50/50 parenting before you even had kids, your life and the life of your kids will be easier. If one of you wants 50/50 and the other person wants “primary custody” there might be more negotiations. But when you fight everyone loses.
6. The health and well-being of your kids is still dependant on BOTH parents doing okay.
If one of you is unduly burdened with a binding contract, and yet suffers a job loss or extended illness, taking the matter to court is likely to hurt both of you and the kids. Driving your ex to bankruptcy might feel like a “told you so” moment, but it’s not. You are bankrupting half of your family, and your kids will see this.
7. Conflict over money is 90% of what you will argue about after divorce. The other 10% is scheduling, school, and transportation for the kids.
8. Fighting your ex about money is a no-win situation.
You may win a financial victory, but you are likely to score an emotional defeat, or potentially damage your kids right along with your ex. Their lives overall, will not be better, by you getting more money if it means your ex has to take a second job to pay for it. Negotiating the little things, like school supplies, or clothing budgets is manageable, but even these little things might spark resentment and angry reactions. Try and find a simple and amicable way to discuss the little things.
9. Survival obligations ALWAYS trump wants and needs.
Both parents need food and shelter. If one of you is doing well while the other person is facing foreclosure or bankruptcy… Well, your family, and thus both of you are facing foreclosure and bankruptcy. Driving an ex to this point will have a grave impact on your kids. For the kids, you need to stay on the same side of money woes. You are in this together until your kids are out of college and successfully launched in their own careers and lives. Until then, an attack on one of you is an attack on both of you. An attack on your ex is essentially shooting yourself in the wallet.
10. How you deal with money is exactly what you are teaching your kids about how to deal with money.
They are watching you. They are listening when you are complaining to your friends about your ex or about the bills. The healthier you can be about your attitudes towards your ex, and specifically about the money, the better example you are setting for your kids.
11. Money isn’t everything, but it’s a huge part of what is still left of your relationship to your ex.
You don’t get to opt out. Just as decisions are jointly decided, money decisions and money troubles are equally shared.
12. The more money you spend on attorneys and fighting is less money you have for your kids and yourselves.
13. If the money is imbalanced and unfair, you might have to fight to change things.
And while this seems contrary to every point above, suffering under massive financial hardship due to the initial divorce decree, can be important for your survival and ability to thrive in your new life. Sure, you’re going to court, but you had to do this in some form before to get divorced, and if it’s absolutely necessary, at least make it as non-confrontational as possible.
14. Unless there is a huge abundance of wealth, we are often caught in the trap of feeling there is a lack.
We want it for our kids. We want to keep our car running and our AC in the house working properly during the summer months. And you will always spend what money is available and thus you will always feel like you need more money. And you might. But you need to be aware if both households are doing okay, before raising petty money issues.
15. Think first of the kids.
The relationship you formed with your partner to get there, to have these wonderful beings, is still your partner, even if you have moved on and are with someone else. From a loving perspective, realize the post-marriage is still a tight relationship and every move you make, every transaction, has an effect on the entire family. Pressing the money matters in order to punish or damage your ex, because you are still angry, or feel justified or entitled, is still a bad idea. It’s as if you were attacking your kids. You might fight them over buying the $150 sneakers vs. the $50 sneakers, but you wouldn’t fight them about having sneakers in the first place.
16. Everyone needs a safe place to live, and the ability to provide for themselves and their families.
And even in divorce, you are still a family with your ex. When they are struggling with money, that is the time to help not to attack.
See more from The Positive Divorce section: