WAR AND PIECE: Settling Finances in Divorce

By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

In the cancelled television drama, Alias, one of the characters chases after an ancient formula that promises immortality. In his pursuit he becomes willing to betray his associates, his friends, his wife, and ultimately his own daughter. In the end he obtains his immortality, but his methods land him in a virtual tomb from which there is no escape, where he will spend eternity alive – and alone.

He is consumed by his fear of death. He loses concern for those around him and isn’t even aware of the damage he brings to them and ultimately to himself. There is a lesson in this story for couples in the process of divorce.

One of the most difficult tasks in divorce is dividing the financial pie. Few families can continue, at least in the short run, with the same standard of living enjoyed as an intact family. The danger is being driven by fear of financial shortages or anger and resentment toward their soon-to-be former partner. Too often the “I’m going to get as much of the pie as I can” attitude fills the plates of lawyers, forensic experts, and even psychologists. In the end, the best piece of the pie is gone.

An unfortunate fact is that each partner will be poorer than they were during the marriage. The good news is that couples that work together can minimize the pain by planning. With the help of experts couples can map out all the financial holdings of the family, recognize the future basic needs of each family member, and develop a strategy that makes the most efficient use of resources.

When partners look out for themselves and for the other partner, the results promote healing and open the door to hope. Once there is an agreement, each partner will know exactly where they stand financially and what they need to do to begin the next chapter of their lives.

An example of California law that seeks to have couples share financial burdens equitably, is the formula for child support. There are two components. The first calculates thetotal family income allocable to care of the children. The second determines how much one parent pays the o ther in order to meet the needs determined in the first step. In other words, the first question is, “what do the children need financially?”. The second asks, “how can that need be met?” Long term successful financial planning in divorce asks the same questions: What do we need? How can we best meet those needs?

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