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AVOIDING A MELTDOWN OVER MONEY

"For richer or poorer" the wedding vows go. But if a blessed union breaks up, that quaint phrase can come back to haunt.

"Divorce is the most important economic event in a person's life because it affects every aspect of their life, every asset they own," says one matrimonial attorney.

As emotionally and physically draining as divorce can be, it can be even more draining financially, for both parties, although experts say it's usually worse for women. They still earn less than men, they are often sole custodians of the children, and studies show that divorce generally leaves women with a 35 percent decrease in their standard of living.

It's enough to make divorcing couples feel downright unfriendly toward one another. But there are ways to avoid a meltdown over money. Couples anxious to maintain amicable relations post-divorce can do so despite more or less difficult financial adjustments.

Consider this:

1. The emotional gain may be worth more to you than any financial loss.

One study found that two years post-divorce, 75 percent of women interviewed said they were happy, as opposed to only 58 percent of men. Obviously, if you want out of a marriage badly enough, you may be willing to sacrifice creature comforts to do so. One woman, divorced for nearly 10 years and now on good terms with her ex, recalls feeling so stifled in their unhappy marriage that she was willing to trade in financial security for self-esteem.

2. Choosing to live a simpler life, like choosing to avoid a bitter divorce, is liberating.

One divorced woman had to find roommates in order to make ends meet, a big adjustment she found "more complicated than getting used to living without a husband." Though it's more often the women who suffer financially, men, too, sometimes have to downsize to survive divorce.

"I moved into a low-rent district," said one divorced male, "but I kind of like the downscale lifestyle I have now. I set priorities now on the basis of a higher value than what the neighbors think of me, the car, the house, the yard." If you can acclimate yourself to reduced financial circumstances, you may find it's not so bad and bitterness toward your former partner dissipates.

3. Honesty in financial dealings enables an amicable split.

You can't fairly divide what you don't know about. Partners in a relationship where one party is ignorant of the other's financial affairs are asking for conflict. You may need the services of an attorney or accountant to sort it all out. A good financial planner -- someone who knows about tax liabilities, adjustments for inflation, etc. -- can keep you from agreeing to a settlement that doesn't consider the long-term impact on each spouse. Financial secrets have no place in a friendly divorce.

4. Respecting your ex extends to money matters.

Would you stiff a friend and expect him or her to remain one? Would you shortchange a business partner and imagine you could still be effective partners? Don't do it to your former life partner, if you intend to stay on good terms.

In his book "Be a Great Divorced Dad," local psychologist Dr. Kenneth N. Condrell is blunt on this topic: "Don't be late with your support payment so your ex-wife can't pay her bills on time. ... Be respectful, as you would be to a friend or co-worker. If you agree to send a check by a certain date, send it."
-- Maria Scrivani

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