I can’t think of how many times that I have had a client tell me, regardless of what the issue is that is in dispute, that the opposing party is “just worried about money” or that it is “all about the money” for him or her, and that is their sole motivation in the case. Or maybe it is the other way around. My usual response is “isn’t it always?” There are so many financial aspects of divorce that have to be balanced that if parties aren’t careful, they can end up in a big money mess. Here are a few of the big ones:
1. 2 households instead of one: Before a couple or family divorces, they live in one residence with one set of bills and expenses, paid by however much money the couple/parents bring in. Upon divorce, the same level of income still exists, but now there are two mortgages/rent, two sets of utilities, two sets of grocery bills, two car payments, relocation expenses, first and last month’s rent, and so on. Basically, double or so the expenses on the same income. It is not hard to see how difficult this is in and of itself.
2. Debts. These days, many families are just a paycheck or two away from real trouble with credit cards and other unsecured debts, and if there are significant debts involved in the divorce, a real challenge exists. Sure the court can divide the debts and assign liability to each spouse, but it doesn’t do much good if the net marital estate is significantly reduced or eliminated by the debt. A divorce is a separation of financial livelihoods, and when possible, it is a good idea to use assets in the marital estate to reduce or eliminate debt before dividing assets. The less debt after the divorce the better for both parties, even if on paper one spouse is supposed to be responsible for it. It is a future fight or bankruptcy filing waiting to happen.
3. Child Support: Quite simply, nobody is happy with it. If you have to pay it, it is going to be perceived to be too much, and if you are receiving it, it is perceived to not be enough. In Missouri child support is largely a mathematical calculation based on incomes and other expenses, and to some degree it is what it is. But regardless, it another factor affecting the same level of income pre-divorce, and it will never make a party “whole” or maintain a pre-divorce standard of living.
4. Maintenance: Although there is no mathematical formula the same holds true as does for child support, it is probably both too much and not enough, and it is still going to have to come out of the same pot of money. Unless the parties are very well off financially to begin with, to expect the same standard of living pre-divorce is usually unrealistic. Although appropriate in some cases of long marriage, large disparities in income, or other factors, maintenance in Missouri is awarded in a small percentage of cases.
5. Health Insurance: Regardless of your politics on the issue, health insurance is expensive and upon divorce usually a former spouse cannot remain on the other spouse’s health insurance. So, unless both parties can get affordable health insurance, if such a thing exists, then this can be a big financial factor that likely may only have a handful of undesirable solutions.
6. Attorney fees and case costs: On top of all of this, the divorce is a direct expense in terms of attorney fees and costs associated with the case. If the case is contested, then the total cost on the family is the sum of both spouses total investment in the case. Attorney fees are not usually awarded, which is all the more reason to try to approach the case in an informed and rational way, and try to keep costs and conflict down. The higher the conflict, the higher the cost every single time.
There are of course, other issues particular to certain cases, but regardless of how extensive the list may be, the bottom line is that divorcing spouses need to be smart and rational about how to separate financially and view their situation in a realistic way. Otherwise, financial disaster in one form or another, certainly awaits.