Going through a divorce is not pleasant. People who work with divorcing couples understand that and try to mitigate the unpleasantness for their clients as much as possible. It’s natural for a client to want the negotiation to be over and done as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the desire for the end of the process can cause a husband or a wife to make some mistakes; mistakes that can’t be easily fixed later.
One area where hasty, short-term thinking often occurs is around parenting schedules. I have seen cases where one parent wants sole custody and the other parent wants joint custody. Putting aside the merits of either of these positions, it is quite likely that whatever the parties ultimately agree upon will be their custodial arrangement until the children are emancipated. In other words, don’t make a compromise because you are in a hurry to get divorced with the idea that you will change it later. If a few years into the agreement one parent would like to change the schedule, it won’t be easy to do unless their ex is willing. Regrettably, many of these types of conflicts end up before a judge who is not likely to change a parenting plan absent a clear emergency.
Future finances are another area where divorcing couples can also be a little short-sighted, particularly as it pertains to how much income they will have to live on after the divorce is final. One common example occurs when one spouse wants to keep the family home yet really doesn’t have the income to sustain living there. In a collaborative divorce, we have a team of neutral experts, including a financial planner. The planner will run a cash-flow analysis for each party to demonstrate how much income each person will have going forward. While this certainly helps people make better decisions, it doesn’t preclude them from unwise choices.
For example, let’s go back to the spouse who wants to stay in the family home. Perhaps the cash-flow analysis indicates enough income to remain in the family home, but just barely. A year into the divorce, the house needs a new roof or some other maintenance. Or, perhaps the spouse is out of work for a period of time. While staying in the family home might be desirable, being house-poor with no financial wiggle-room can lead to problems down the road.
Another financial mistake some divorcing spouses make is having an emotional attachment to particular marital assets, such as stock or real estate. One spouse may want to keep stock that they earned from their employer for emotional reasons or because they think it is going to increase in value. Another spouse may want to keep the family second home thinking it would be worth much more in a few years. If the stock value drops or the home falls into disrepair what started out looking like an equal division of marital assets might end up favoring the other spouse. Since the division of assets in a divorce is final there will be no way to correct the imbalance down the road.
College tuition payments and retirement are also areas where couples may agree too quickly without fully thinking things through. For example, a couple may agree to each pay half of the cost of college without crunching any numbers or thought as to how or what that would do to his/her overall savings plan and retirement. Once the child is in high school and visiting colleges, it’s a little too late in the game to initiate a change to that agreement.
People using collaborative divorce as the method to negotiate a divorce settlement have the advantage of a neutral team of experts. I’ve seen it time and again where these experts can put a financial forecast in front of divorcing couples so they have a pretty good idea of what things will be like—at least financially—post-divorce. It truly saddens me to see couples rush to a settlement before fully taking advantage of the team’s capabilities.
A divorce is like having surgery. Your best chance for full recovery lies in the hours just after the procedure. If you stay off your feet and follow doctor’s orders, the swelling will be minimal and in a few days, you can start your recovery program. Similarly, your best shot at your best life after divorce lies in those hours spent negotiating a settlement. Rush to your feet before you have your full recovery program in place and you will suffer setbacks that will delay any number of things that you want to do with the rest of your life.
If you made the move to go with collaborative divorce, you owe it to yourself to use the process to craft the best post-divorce life you can. It’s time spent in the short-term that will be well worth it long-term.