I am working with a woman whose divorce seems to keep getting crazier instead of calmer. When the process began, they had two small children, a mountain of debt, and no jobs.
Now, the kids are a bit older; the parents both have good jobs, and they have been paying down their debt. Things should be getting better for them.
But, the Husband keeps changing what he wants in a parenting plan; neither of them has presented a complete financial affidavit, so they are still fighting about money; and now the Husband has hired a bankruptcy attorney into the mix! What is going on??
First of all, the Wife has stopped hiding her boyfriend. That almost always makes matters worse. Spouses who feel cheated-upon tend to be angry. No matter how long the parties have been in complete breakdown; no matter how many prior affairs have gone on by either party. If you are seeing someone else – THAT PERSON becomes the reason for all of our problems. I have seen it happen time and time again.
Here’s what I suggest: Divide and Conquer. Like a General on an Army field – view your divorce as a series of small skirmishes to be negotiated and completed; not just one overwhelming pile of potential litigation. I suggested that they make a few different appointments, and have each appointment’s goal be an individual written and signed agreement.
They should have one meeting with the bankruptcy attorney and decide what is the most advantageous way to handle a bankruptcy for all concerned. Should the Husband file after the divorce? How will that impact the Wife? Should they both file before the divorce? With an expert in the room, they can look at the big picture and choose a strategy to result in the best possible outcome for the adults and their children. They can put the plan in writing and sign it between the two of them. Just the bankruptcy. Nothing else at that moment.
Separately, I recommend that they meet with their financial planner. They should bring all of their banking statements and bills and other financial paperwork, and sit together the three of them and get two accurate financial affidavits. No lingering questions, no confusion.
I recommend an additional meeting with a neutral third party – or just the two of them – in which the only agenda item is their parenting plan. They can address questions about the best interests of the children; the children’s needs and desires, and the children’s schedules without having to mention anything about debts, money, or blame. Once they agree on a fair and healthy parenting plan, they should write it up and sign it. It is not relevant to any of the other issues and should not be muddles together with them.
But- my strongest recommendation for a way to divide the problems from each other and solve for them in as calm a manner as possible, is to begin with a dating stipulation, also called a “Stipulation of Irretrievable Breakdown.” In English, this is what it would say:
“Our marriage is over. We are incapable of, or uninterested in, fixing it. We both need to move on with our lives. You can date and I can date and neither one of us will use that as a reason to fight. We understand that our dates are not the reason our marriage is ending.”
Signing a dating stipulation might take hours and days and weeks of crying, blaming, yelling, screaming. But if that is what you need in order to get past the awful truth, then it is better to do so without bringing collateral damage to your parenting plan and finances.
Once it has been acknowledged, accepted, and signed, the other pieces will probably come together much more easily. The anger about dating/fidelity/commitment will no longer have to hide behind questions about who gets the kids on Thursday nights; or how much money is in the joint account.
What We Love: Find the parts of the divorce that you can own and conquer. Get each small skirmish out of the way as quickly and cleanly as possible, so they don’t muddle the rest of the issues.