Divorce lawyers, when trying to urge their clients to settle their divorce case and save fees, will sometimes point out that a costly divorce is, directly or indirectly, draining the college fund for their children. This is a stark reality that, on occasion, will cause clients to pause long enough to set aside some emotional issues in order to preserve their nest egg.
I have found that comparing college savings to divorce savings can be helpful in other ways as well. In working with divorcing couples for more than 30 years, I am often very impressed by the enormous sacrifices that middle class Americans will make to assure that their children get a good college education. This seems to be so embedded into the American dream that is not unusual to see parents fund their children’s college education even if it means depleting all savings or incurring great debt. In many divorce cases, the college savings are the “sacred cow”, the last thing to be impinged upon, based on shared belief that “the children come first.”
For the most part, this is incredibly admirable. College education, or other post-secondary opportunities, can truly make a difference for our children and watching parents sacrifice for the greater good generally seems like a good idea. However, during a divorce, the sacrifices made for post-college education needs to be compared to other family sacrifices.
Many adult children, who have gone through college, as well as their parents’ divorce, claim that getting through their parents’ divorce was the bigger challenge. More important, it is often easy to see that the way their parents handled their divorce had an even greater impact on their future lives than whether they had to take out a student loan to cover a larger portion of their college education. It is easy to see why this would be true. Yet, it is a hard realization for parents to accept when they are asked to consider “investing” in their children’s divorce in a similar light to an investment in college.
For example, in most cases we recommend that parents work with a child specialist during a divorce; someone who can make sure that we are truly hearing the needs of the children and who can guide the parents in creating and
a parenting plan that is truly in the best interest of their children. The investment in a child specialist generally ranges between $1,000 and $2,000, a relatively small investment when you consider what is at stake. Yet, I see many really good parents who balk at this investment, even while committing tens of thousands of dollars to make sure that their children are not overburdened by student loans.
I get it, in a way. A college education seems like a more tangible thing and, if you have never been through a divorce or worked with a child specialist, it may be hard to envision the benefits of a child specialist in the same way. In truth, there are times in which working with the child specialist has only a slightly advantageous effect on co-parenting. However, there are other times when the difference is life changing. And when you carefully consider what is at stake, I can usually, without hesitation, recommend that investment, even at the risk that it could (although not necessarily) add $120 to $200 per month to little Johnny’s student loan payments.
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