When you think about it, you probably haven’t heard a whole lot of divorced folks say, “I got such a great divorce settlement! I’m so pleased with the outcome!” If you know any of these rare creatures — and they’re not formerly married to Rupert Murdoch — direct them my way. I’d love to interview them for a future article. Pardon? You don’t know any? Read on.
When it’s clear the battle to save your marriage is a losing one and your divorce is set in motion, you quickly learn it’s about two things: kids and cash. If you don’t have kids, or they’re older and out of the house, it’s about one thing.
According to some studies (you can read Brendan Lyle’s article about them here), a typical woman endures a 73 percent reduction in her standard of living while her ex-husband’s standard of living increases by 42 percent.
How do so many presumably bright, savvy, and educated women end up as sad statistics?
In my case, I’m a “73 percent-er” because I didn’t do due diligence on my divorce agreement. The deliberations dragged on so long, I just couldn’t stand the wait any longer. Add to that an attorney who was admittedly distracted during the negotiations, and you’ve got a pretty certain recipe for settlement dissatisfaction.
And I don’t want the same for you.
Because, right this very minute, you need to start thinking about your divorce negotiation as akin to a concerning medical diagnosis. If you got one, wouldn’t you get a second opinion? That second medical opinion could change the course of your life. And a crappy divorce settlement — or a good one — can also effect what the rest of your life looks like both emotionally and financially.
Heidi-Rachel Webb is a lawyer with a Masters degree in counseling and consulting psychology. Her firm, Consilium ® Divorce Consultations, merges the disciplines of law and psychology. In addition to working with couples at the outset of their divorce journeys, she also provides the service of being a second set of legal eyes on divorce agreements before clients sign off on them. Webb helps her clients understand that what they might agree to today, isn’t what will necessarily serve them well in five or ten years.
“Divorce agreements are documents, a snapshot in time, and try as they might they can’t account for the fluid nature of life. What may work well for a family when children are infants and toddlers, may not work at all well when those same children are teenagers,” Webb says.
Entering the world of divorce is like landing in a foreign land. If you don’t speak the language (Legalese), and your strong suits aren’t confrontation, finances, or negotiation, you may feel like a lost tourist without a map. You’ve heard the terms child support, division of property, and alimony, but what do they really mean? And what your cousin’s stepfather’s step-sister’s niece got in her settlement has zero to do with what you’ll end up with in yours. Divorces are like snowflakes. No two are exactly alike.
“Clients do call us mid-process on account of their confusion or discomfort regarding the progress of their case. In those instances, we are happy to consult with lawyers to try and create a better understanding of current dynamics, and resolve any confusion or misunderstanding,” Webb explains.
If you have children, keep in mind that your settlement will have a profound impact — not only on their lives — but on their views of marriage, divorce, and parenting. A fair financial arrangement is the first step toward an amicable post-divorce relationship with your ex. And that amicable relationship will be pretty unlikely if you spend the next two decades fuming because you feel screwed over in your divorce.
“Former spouses are co-parents forever,” Webb says. “I encourage families to talk about restructuring as opposed to divorcing. What do they want their future interactions to look, feel and be like? For their children, their children’s children, and for our society, I believe we must reframe, restructure, and rebuild that legacy.”
When you’ve already opened your proverbial wallet and emptied out the contents to pay a divorce attorney, it may seem ludicrous to think about hiring another one to review your divorce agreement. If you think you can’t afford it right now, think again. The truth is, you can’t afford not to. Because you can’t put a price on your future financial stability and, most importantly, a peaceful divorce legacy both you, your ex, and your children can live with.