Six Tips for Separating Emotions from Economics in Divorce

by Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP®, CDFA 

They say that a bad marriage is like a game of cards. You start out with two hearts and a diamond – but end up wishing for a club and a spade. When those feelings surface during a divorce, it leads to unproductive conflict and often results in a less than optimal settlement.

In divorce it is important to focus on the real problems to come up with real solutions. If spouses are at war, they are likely to see each other as the problem and the divorce as the solution. But they won’t get to true resolution until they recognize that simply isn’t true. The real problem is how to divvy everything up in divorce, and divorcing spouses won’t arrive at the best solution for their family until they collaborate on resolving their issues by working together, not against each other.

No matter how much spouses despise each other, they often equally despise spending money on a divorce battle, so even though they are on the outs they may be willing to work together to settle matters and keep the costs down by staying out of court.

When you are going through a contentious divorce, the key is to avoid letting uncertainty whip either of you into an emotional tizzy. The more frenzied your emotions, the longer the proceedings and the more costly the divorce. Collaborative divorce can be a Godsend in reaching optimal resolution at a reasonable cost.  In collaborative divorce, you’ll have all the professionals at the same table, working with the same facts, and engage coaches to keep everyone on track. That keeps uncertainty and miscommunication down, which helps everyone focus on the issues that are most important.

The job of the professionals in collaborative divorce is to help clients figure out how to divvy up the assets and debts so that each spouse emerges from divorce with a fair share of the pot that will let them begin anew. Here are six tips the divorcing spouses can use to separate emotions from economics:

Don’t let guilt rule you. “Please release me, let me go,” pleads the country song, but don’t give up everything to buy your freedom. Your spouse will still be unhappy that the marriage is ending, and you’ll be unhappy when you find yourself impoverished by your foolish gesture. The needs of each person are important, and the goal is to reach the best agreement possible as you balance those needs.

Don’t give in just to get it over.  When going through divorce, carefully consider your current needs and your needs in the future. You can’t depend on your soon-to-be-ex have your best interests in mind, and you can’t depend on your attorney to know exactly what is best for you and your family. Don’t try to shortcut a divorce. The only way out is through, and it will take your conscious involvement to reach a resolution that will work for you.

Don’t make nice to get him or her back. It’s all right to hope against hope that your divorce will end in reconciliation, but don’t bend over backward to make it happen. Stand up for yourself and get your share. If you successfully reconcile, and some couples do, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t, you’ll still be able to take care of yourself financially.

Leave revenge at the door. Legally, it doesn’t matter who did who wrong. Revenge is costly, and funding a wild rampage by not giving an inch is bound to turn out badly. You won’t win every battle, no matter what, and if you stubbornly stick to your guns despite all reasonable offers to settle, who knows, you might even end up paying part of your spouse’s attorney fees.

Don’t succumb to threats, or threaten your spouse. Money and power are emotionally linked, but in divorce it isn’t smart to try to use money to control your spouse and get your way. If you launch a full-blown court battle and argue every financial issue, be assured that most of what you can’t agree on will end up being split between your attorneys, with a sizeable amount going to the financial professionals. That is money that could be used to fund your family’s future if you stay out of court.

Focus on problem-solving, not fighting. Don’t let meetings with your ex turn into posturing to show who is in control or how smart you are. Settling your divorce is the problem you confront, and it won’t get solved through fighting. You can’t get everything you want in divorce, so figure out what is most important to you and let the rest go. You’ll end up with a better agreement, a less tumultuous relationship, a happier family, and a healthier future.

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