Who Do These Agreements Benefit?

I have clients who are in a hurry to finalize their divorce agreement, even though the date of their hearing is months away.  I also have clients who are avoiding me rather than have to commit anything to paper yet.  I have clients who want to know the details of the spouse’s financial picture before completing their own financial affidavit, and others who bring me everything I request promptly, clearly, and in a completely organized fashion.

You might want to guess that the people who are most compliant are doing so because they are the ones with the most to gain financially. It might seem obvious that my stragglers, or my suspicious clients, are the ones who are likely to get raked by the end of this.

Ironically, if anything, it is usually the opposite case.  I have a man right now paying his wife about twice as much as he should be paying her while the divorce is pending. He does not want to be paying her anything, but when I ask him to sit down with me to sort out the financial picture he gets agitated and hangs up the phone.  Then he sends her another check, because he does not know what else to do.

A client’s level of cooperation is more typically a reflection of who they are than what they want.  People who have spent their lives balancing their check books, watching the interest rates on their credit cards, and checking their credit scores are people who want to know their financial picture.  It might be that they are going to be worse off at the end of the divorce than they are now, but if they can be told, for example, “you will be living on $500 a week until you get a better job,” then they know how to start planning.  It might not be what they want to hear; but at least they know what they are up against.

It is similar to the feeling of relief when the doctor diagnoses your mysterious pain.  Once you find out that the sharp pain behind your eye is a sinus infection, you can stop worrying that it might be a brain tumor.

On the other hand, there are those who find a mysterious lump while taking a routine shower, and become too terrified to go to the doctor.  “What if it is cancer?” they ask, and decide they do not want to know.  They would rather live with a fear than risk learning the truth.  They can themselves that the fear is just hypochondria.  Once they have a diagnosis, though, that safety net disappears.  Too often we hear stories of people who ignored a lump – hoping it would go away, hoping they were just over-reacting – to their own detriment.

The ostriches of the legal world are not much different than the ostriches of the medical world.  My clients are afraid that once we all get a clear picture of their financial situation that things are going to get worse quickly.  Maybe they think of a divorce decree as similar to a terminal diagnosis.  Instead of fearing the sentence, “it is inoperable,” they fear the sentence, “all of your earnings, for the rest of your life.”

So, although an agreement might ultimately benefit the payor spouse, that is not who is always the most cooperative. And even if the ultimate agreement will set the payee spouse in a comfortable situation, that is not always the one in a hurry to settle.

Who is most likely to get it done quickly and cleanly?  The person who wants to finish the divorce and start a new life.

WHAT WE LOVE:   The diagnosis is usually much less severe than what your imagination creates.

Perspective

ImagePerspective. I recently met with a group of marital and family therapists.  Perspective is their job, right?  They  listen to a woman wonder whether she should divorce a man who loves her unconditionally but doesn’t communicate well, she leaves the therapist’s  office and a man walks in whose wife is physically and verbally abusive, but he would never dream of using the “D” word.

                  Here are some guidelines I have noticed.  The toughest decision is the very first one: in or out?  Do I want to stay in this marriage, and work through whatever this is, or have I given everything there is to give?    I think this should be the factors that they have to balance. Not – how much will it cost? How long will it take? Will it be painful?  The answers are all worst case scenario – it will take longer than you want;  it will cost more than you can afford, and – yes – it will be painful.

                  So what? All of those are the same answers one could give about having children: costs too much, takes too long, definitely painful (whether you are the mother or the father.)  But those are not the deciding factors on whether or not to have children.  Or we would have a much more sparsely populated planet.

                  Frequently, there is one person who wants a divorce and one person who is completely blind-sided by it.  In general, the person who is blind-sided is the one who was getting the good deal all along.  The person who wants a divorce has probably grappled and struggled with the decision for months, if not years, before finally deciding that the problems are insurmountable.

                  Obviously, this is not always true.  Plenty of selfish louts decide for reasons of pure self-interest to get out of the marriage.  And plenty of devoted hard-working spouses want to stay together anyway.

                  The threats usually start when someone is trying to take away the good deal.

                  The goal of a good divorce is to get through it as quickly, painlessly, and inexpensively as possible, while maintaining one’s ability to move forward in life.  Too often, we see people who are afraid of “losing everything” in the divorce, instead spending everything in the divorce.  When it’s all over, what is the difference?  They would rather see their lawyer make $25k or $30k on a divorce than get one penny less than their fair share.  By the time the smoke clears, the lawyers have each picked up $30,000 and the nest egg is gone.  No wonder people are afraid to get divorced!

                  Ironically, the people who have the best divorces are the ones who are confident in their ability to survive it and move on.  Whereas, the ones who are afraid that it will devastate them, are frequently the ones who make things worse by hanging on to their fear and anger.  Please help your clients visualize the outcome – a new smaller, cleaner condo; some money in the bank; being poised and gracious at the kid’s graduations, recitals & weddings, etc.

                  People who think they will fight to the death over any given matter, suddenly lose their will to fight when all of the money is gone, and by then, of course, it is too late.  And not just for financial reasons.  It is harder to respect someone who has dragged you over the coals to get at a family heirloom, or keep you from seeing your children, or even your pet.

Divorces can last years, and the longer they last the more damage they do, and the more money they cost.

One major reason, is that the legal track cannot really get ahead of the emotional track.  Until both parties are tired enough of the fighting, it is possible to prolong the process for years.  I have seen people have custody battles over a dog, an engagement ring, and – no lie – a weed whacker.  If you feel the need to fight, you can.

What We Love:   Perspective.  It is never too late to get some.