In most divorce cases, there are three (four if there are children involved) components addressed as divorcing couples find a resolution they can both live with. The pieces include legal, emotional, financial and co-parenting (if applicable). Often the areas with the shortest lifespan gain the most attention, while the areas with the greatest potential for negative consequences are ignored or assumed addressed by professionals working outside their area of expertise. This is a mistake with potential long lasting consequences.
The initial filing and the final signing of the decree often mark the beginning and end of the legal process. Whether self-representing with the help of a support group or completing the legal piece with a legal advocate, most couples gain professional assistance with this portion of their divorce. The legal pieces of the divorce puzzle ends (hopefully) with the signing of the decree. The legal component has a finite life (again, hopefully).
The emotional piece of the divorce puzzle may be the most important aspect of divorce. People tend to make bad decisions in an emotional state. Fear, greed, anger, betrayal and many other emotions are common place during the divorce process. Making decisions while in an emotional state provides opportunity for negative consequences as the couple enters post divorce life. Most divorce participants seek support in this area. Whether from qualified professionals, friends, family, support groups or religious organizations, divorce participants typically gain support. Time may not heal all wounds, but it arguably dampens them.
Financial decisions are often based on emotions and made without an understanding of long term consequences for one or both participants. The financial goal of divorce should be to provide a solution in which BOTH participants move forward during their post divorce life (from a financial perspective). A financial divorce plan allows the couple to review the expected (based on assumptions) outcome of their proposed settlement. This plan addresses the typical questions of “will I have enough money to live?” and the opposing question “why am I paying this amount?” Understanding the expected outcome provides peace of mind for both participants. The benefit of this knowledge provides a lower likelihood of returning to court (or other option) post divorce – for financial reasons. Another benefit includes shortening the overall process as many divorce proceedings are extended (increasing the cost) while couples “fight” over what they “deserve” or are “entitled to”. Unfortunately, time does not dampen bad financial decisions; time tends to increase the costs of bad decisions.
When children are involved, couples will create a co-parenting plan. The plan should include input from the children when applicable (which is most of the time). The couple may create a plan based on what is best for them, rather than what is best for the family in whole (with an emphasis on the children). Monday and Tuesday at dad’s, Wednesday and Thursday at moms with alternating weekends (insert other proposals) may sound reasonable for the adults, but may not be what is best for the children. When children are involved, the couple will be a family for a lifetime. The decisions made during the divorce process will determine the couple’s post divorce relationship and help shape the child’s life. Co-parenting plans need to address so much more than just which days are spent at which residence. Bad decisions can create negative outcomes for not only the couple’s lifetime, but the children’s as well.
It is crucial that couples understand how decisions made today will set the stage for their life – post divorce. Unfortunately, the decisions with the longest potential impact – money and children – are often given the least amount of time and resources or handed to professionals practicing outside their area of expertise. Both participants in the divorce process should understand each component listed above and any other areas specific to their situation. When the couple addresses all the key components of divorce, the potential for future costs – emotional and financial – are lessened. Ignoring one or more crucial considerations can lead to heavy future costs.