My mind on my money…

I am working off the general assumption that your goal is to keep as much of your money and “stuff” as you can, and on the flip side, give your parting spouse as little as possible. The other side will, of course, be working on the same basic goal. There are other psychological factors that mix in with and mix up this basic goal, however; some more noble than others, some more subtle than others. We are humans after all. Money is hardly ever just about money. Allow me then to throw out some gross generalities about human nature.

Guilt. You did something you feel in your heart is “bad”. This emotion often causes people going through a divorce to make concessions they otherwise wouldn’t out of a sense of responsibility for the failure of the marriage, or possibly because they feel they deserve some kind of punishment. Or, in a trial situation, perhaps they want to get things over with before their dirty laundry is aired on public record.

Sympathy, often accompanied by nostalgia for the relationship. This one plays out something like this: Maybe your ex wasn’t that bad. You had some good times, right? You married her (or him) for a reason, after all. Maybe she makes less money than you do, or she sacrificed her career to raise your children and she will probably get custody of the kids, too. Or maybe he worked two jobs to help you get your degree. Whatever the reason, you feel like you owe him or her something or want to help your ex out.

Sentimental value of things. This has a great deal of interplay with what would be my next topic of Rage/Anger/Vindictiveness, so let’s talk about them together. She doesn’t care about your collection of Dallas Cowboys memorabilia, but since you left her for your secretary (see “guilt” above) she will burn in heck before she’ll let you have them. Or maybe it’s more like this: He has never understood why you needed so many shoes, but dadgumit, he paid for them, and you can go find “personal fulfillment” barefoot. We all have stuff that has a special meaning to us beyond its monetary value. You probably know what items have the most meaning to your spouse, and vice versa. These items become bargaining chips, and may also be used by an angry spouse as a means to punish or otherwise hurt the other spouse.

There are, of course, many more emotions involved in the divorce process that influence how the parties will deal with each other in attempts to make a settlement agreement, and, failing that, at trial. Remember, however that emotions pass and change, but divorce decrees are forever. Get a bad deal and you will have to live with it.

It will be very helpful to both you and your lawyer if you do two things:

First, think about the end result that you want. What do you want to walk away with in the end? Be specific. See if you can do this by only thinking in terms of what you want to happen to you, as opposed to what you want to happen (or not happen) to your soon-to-be-ex. For example, “I want my credit to stay intact. I want the Chevy Pickup. I want to have enough money to get a new, decent place to live, and still be able to pay my bills.” Not, “I want my ex to starve on the streets.” Figuring out what it is that really matters to you in the end game, and then COMMUNICATING THIS TO YOUR LAWYER will give both of you a clearer picture of what to do in a mediation, settlement conference or trial. Your lawyer can tell you the likelihood of you getting the things that you want, and together you can structure your settlement offers and trial strategies to get as close to that goal as is feasible.

Second, think about what your soon-to-be-ex is going to want. You were married to this person, so hopefully you will know enough about her to make a prediction. What property means the most to him? Will she want the house? The car? Will she be able to support herself without your income? Is he still struggling to pay off the loans from graduate school? It is always important to know thy opponent, and this is an area where you have inside knowledge that your lawyer will not. Communicate to your lawyer what you predict your spouse is going to go after. This will give him a better insight into how to structure your case. Incidentally, your lawyer will likely have some knowledge about how opposing counsel (and possibly your judge) will act and react. Any insight on how to predict the other side’s moves will be priceless.

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