I read an interesting article in the Star Tribune this week, “Till Debt Do Us Part,” about the challenges faced by newlyweds with student loan debt, particularly when one partner has more debt that the other. This got me thinking about the strong connection between money and divorce.
Money issues are the number one reason clients give me for the failure of their relationships. Debt is usually a contributing factor. In my career as a collaborative divorce attorney, clients have shared their very personal stories with me. Sometimes the story-telling is tearful and filled with regret. Other times it is angry and filled with resentment. Tension over finances can evoke negative emotions and poison otherwise loving relationships.
In some cases, money issues are caused by factors outside of anyone’s control, such as job loss, a tough economy, or illness. The resulting instability can be temporary or long-term and affects the entire family. In my experience, however, disagreements about money arise when parties come into marriage with different attitudes and feelings about money. These differences gradually reveal themselves over time, eventually affecting other aspects of the relationship. Even marriages of caring, committed spouses are at risk.
So how can divorce over money be avoided? Awareness is the first step. Each of us grew up in a family with its unique money culture. Whether we realize it or not, our ideas and values have been influenced by our childhood experiences. Many parents are reluctant to talk openly with their children about money, leaving the children to unknowingly form their own set of beliefs. Failure to recognize these hidden internal attitudes and assumptions in ourselves and others leads to misunderstanding and blame.
The good news is that open discussion of money matters can help couples identify their differences and protect their relationships. Key questions include:
- How will we manage our day-to-day finances?
- How much should we be spending vs. saving?
- Which budget items constitute “needs” vs. “wants”?
- Will all of our money be considered joint or will we each have our separate funds?
- How does each of us define “financial security”?
- What are our retirement goals?
These same questions are critical to couples who have decided to divorce. In the collaborative divorce process, a team of collaborative professionals encourages the couple to look closely at their finances as they establish separate households. Rather than make assumptions, both spouses are asked to describe their goals. The settlement discussions that follow help to produce a settlement plan that achieves as many of their goals as possible. To find out more about the collaborative divorce process, visit www.collaborativelaw.org
More Collaborative Law Posts