For years I’ve told my clients who ask this common question that there isn’t really an answer. That it depends on what style of divorce they choose, whether they’re still able to communicate, how complicated their situation is, and how much they need to unravel from their married life.
I’ve changed my answer. I am now saying definitively that the most expensive type of divorce is one where the parties going through the divorce fight about everything, don’t understand their choices, or take responsibility for their process.
Let’s break that down.
First, thoughts on fighting. You’re getting divorced for a reason. It may be egregious and untrustworthy behavior; it may be addiction or abuse, or it may simply be that you still care deeply for each other, but you’ve been living as roommates for years and are looking for more than that in the remainder of your life. Whatever the reason, it’s stopped being a positive situation for either of you. Yes, even if you don’t want the divorce and are surprised that your spouse wants out, when you really look at your marriage it’s not a good situation if one of the two of you wants to leave.
Reality is the divorce is happening. How it happens is up to you. If everything becomes about winning and losing, because you can’t have one without the other, even simple decisions can be drawn out and expensive. This often happens when a couple isn’t supported in a goal-oriented process.
– Sides are taken and lines are drawn
– Any settlement becomes about who has more assets on their side of the balance sheet
– One or both of the parties makes declarations that include statements like “I won’t accept…” or “They’re going to pay…” or “Not a penny less than…” or “I refuse…”
If people are backed into a corner where there’s no way because they’ve already said they won’t accept a solution even before it’s discussed, what happens? Usually, one side will wait it out and wear the other down (frequently that’s the side with more assets and better income stream).
And you know what’s sad? Often whatever the subject of the standoff is could either be purchased or replaced by the amount spent on professional fees to have the fight in the first place.
Example, a couple in a Collaborative Divorce pays $2,500 per session to cover the attorneys, financial neutral, and divorce coaches. For two hours one of the parties digs in about the amount that’s reasonable to allocate in the budget for kids buying birthday presents for their friends and acne medication. The amount in question? About $1,000. Was it worth the $2,500 in fees to have that fight?
Understand the process
Before you sign a contract or pay a retainer, investigate what your options are for the divorce process in your unique situation and your state. Once you start down a more aggressive path than might be necessary it’s hard to walk that back. Attend webinars, interview professionals, read books. Get yourself smart about what you need to know to make good decisions.
And then line up a team of professionals to support you in the right way through your divorce. This is not the space to pinch pennies. I don’t mean hire the most expensive attorney you can find.
- Hire the people you feel comfortable with, those who answer your questions, don’t bully you (it happens a lot) and respect your decisions.
- Have the right professionals doing the right job. Having an attorney work through your expenses and scenarios for settlement instead of a CDFA® might be like having your Apple watch repaired by a Mercedes dealer. You probably wouldn’t go to the dentist to get your hair cut, why would you use a legal expert to determine your financial future?
Take responsibility for your actions and your team
Check-in with yourself often. Our culture has nurtured the view of divorce as a nasty, knock-down drag-out full of intrigue and anger. It can be easy to fall into those stereotypes if you aren’t vigilant about your behavior.
I witnessed a divorcing husband influenced by his brother’s “don’t give her a dime” position. The brother coached his sibling that giving anything to his going-to-be ex-wife meant he was weak and a loser. That couple’s divorce went from $20,000 in professional fees to $120,000, it went from sad but amicable to all-out hatred and ended in the same settlement. Was it worth $100,000 in fees and a damaged family?
Whoever you hire to work with you through this transition, always remember that they are working for you and there to support you. You can craft a relationship with your team and communicate the expectations you have for that relationship. Look for more on that in next week’s article.
What to do?
Try to work with professionals who are goals-based, not about winning. When you interview them ask about their style of communication, what they would do with a scenario similar to the one above, how often they actually go to court, how they bill not just their billing rate, and so on.
Look yourself in the mirror and ask if you are handling this as best you can and are surrounded with people who support you in the way you need and deserve.
Take Control of Your Future
When you consider divorce, or if you know someone who is contemplating divorce, one of the biggest realities for those in the divorce process is the financial settlement and financial analysis post-divorce. Get the assistance of Brenda Bridges, a Mediator, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®), RICP® Retirement Income Certified Professional, and Certified Divorce Coach.
Brenda provides step-by-step guidance on matters related to divorce. With a wide range of experience and expertise related to divorce issues, Brenda will simplify the process and provide much-needed clarity in areas such as long-term tax consequences, asset, and debt analysis, dividing pension plans, continued health care coverage, stock option elections, protecting support with life insurance, and much more.
Divorce coaching and educational services provided through Bridging Divorce Solutions, LLC. Bridging Divorce Solutions, LLC is not affiliated with Cambridge. Examples are hypothetical and for illustrative purposes only.