“Marriage is about love. Divorce is about money,” Gabrielle Clemens says in her book preparing readers for the money issues in divorce. Arguably—Ms. Clemens is right. Fights over money cause a 30% increase in the likelihood of divorce. More, they constitute a prime cause of divorce–and the big fight in divorce.
Money fights cause divorce because, often, savers marry spenders. So, each spouse views money very differently. More—money represents power, values, and priorities. Healthy couples find a way to join in these. Unhealthy couples don’t. Money then becomes the major weapon in a battle for control. The resulting carnage—of resources and of trust—leads to divorce. A divorce where each desperately fights for the money so they can finally “win” the battle for their own power and priorities. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
When Roxanne and Jeff entered mediation, they disagreed on everything—except their desire to save money on the divorce. They left mediation saving money. More, the mediator helped them establish shared goals and craft an agreement that created financial security for both.
Finding common ground
While many attorneys focus simply on the dollars and how to split them, the mediator first focused on each person’s views of what money stands for and how it should be used. This helped her understand the “why” of their positions on splitting money.
For Jeff, money was all about providing for the future. The future of their children (cars, college, weddings, inheritance) and the couple’s future retirement. Growing up in a struggling family, he valued hard work and setting aside significant assets now to provide for later. He entered mediation angry over the constant strain of trying to fund his priorities when monthly expenditures consistently exceeded income.
Roxanne viewed money as providing for now. Also growing up in a struggling family, she focused on making sure the children felt secure by funding present needs. More than just providing basics, Roxanne wanted their children to wear the “in” clothes, participate in all their interests, and enjoy ready cash. She focused on fun family memories—from spontaneous indulgences to planned vacations. She never wanted their children to feel deprived or inferior. Jeff’s constant questioning of her spending fueled her own anger.
The mediator helped Jeff and Roxanne see that they shared the same priority—using money to provide for others, especially their children. They simply prioritized the “how” differently. Roxanne readily agreed she wanted the children to go to college. Jeff likewise agreed that the children needed security now. Able to focus on this shared goal, they used it to guide money discussions. The mediator facilitated discussions on other shared goals, their differing needs, and creative options for meeting both.
Crafting a workable agreement
To create agreement, couples must understand what is possible—and what is not. Concrete numbers define the possibilities.
Roxanne and Jeff created budgets for their life after divorce. The exercise of putting numbers to present and future needs defined the financial challenge for both.
Where Roxanne routinely paid clothing, school, and sports expenses; Jeff had a clear handle on the investment needed to plan for cars and college. In budgeting for how they each would meet these present and future demands on their own, they gained insight into the other’s perspectives.
As Jeff filled in information on groceries, clothing, and children’s schooling—he discovered that his perceptions of what was needed fell far short of the true costs. He realized Roxanne’s budget was not as extravagant as he accused.
Likewise, Roxanne realized that her current spending ran a deficit each month—before setting aside money for savings, college, or retirement. She felt some of the fear Jeff had been expressing for years. Both accepted that they would have to make major adjustments in spending patterns to gain a sound footing for each household.
The budget numbers provided the specificity needed for creating immediate, short-term, and long-term financial goals. Roxanne and Jeff then looked at which assets could be used to meet the current budget shortfalls and which should be preserved to build their separate futures. This helped them move past their circuitous arguments and into productive conversations. They emerged with a workable agreement.
Their agreement also disproved, at least a bit, Clemens’ assertion that divorce is all about money. While their marriage was over, Roxanne and Jeff still cared for each other. More, they wanted their children to enjoy secure homes with both parents. By joining in this priority, Roxanne and Jeff navigated the money issues in their divorce while expressing care for all those affected. That is the possibility and power of mediation.
If you would like more information on navigating divorce, contact Resolution Mediation. You can email info@ResolutionMediationIN.com or call 317-793-0825 to speak with us directly. We look forward to speaking with you!