MONEY, MARRIAGE, AND DIVORCE
Most of the divorce conflicts I mediate are about money or the value of assets. Typically, the positions or demands made by each spouse have two components—anger and who is entitled to what value.
Anger can be reduced to, “You’re going to pay for how you’ve treated me.” This attack has several engines—the actual or perceived dishonest accounting, misuse of joint funds, betrayal, bullying, and more. At the core is anger at what one and often both spouses see as accumulated injustice. The injustice is beyond emotional repair or forgiveness. Thus, the demand for money compensation—a financial clubbing–is a substitute for other forms of vengeance.
Often the person making the angry demand does not expect the other person to agree. The angry manner in which the demand is presented, often with name calling and four letter words, guarantees a negative response. The price demanded is a way of expressing anger in measurable form.
Some mediators practice what we call “therapeutic mediation.” This aims at helping both parties to come to terms with their anger and other emotions and understanding and accepting how the other spouse became so angry.
A mediator who decides to take this approach should let the parties know in advance, and they should be aware that the process may be very time consuming and may fail. Other mediators might ask the spouses if they think they can achieve any progress by these angry accusations. At times the couple may actually present a good reason to explore the emotions. The mediator’s role then becomes helping them articulate in a way that communicates rather than alienates. Success may make for more productive financial discussion.
Even when one or both spouses want to be fair and generous, they seldom agree on what that means. With good will on both sides, a mediator with experience in finance and valuation can help them arrive at ways to value not only property and financial assets like stocks and bonds, but the mediator can help them agree on the value of labor and time.
When a couple owns real estate, either jointly or in individual names, valuation by a local real estate professional may be necessary. Many Realtors will provide a “market analysis” which is like an appraisal but cannot be called such unless the Realtor is also a qualified appraiser. (I have been both a Realtor and an appraiser, and I seldom find much difference in the estimates of a market analysis and an appraisal. More on that another day.)
What many couples don’t realize, and what an experienced mediator can help them see, is that real property, personal property, financial instruments, and cash are different kinds of assets that can be matched to their different needs. I’ve had cases in which one spouse would finance a buyout of their joint real estate by the other. At other times spousal support payments can be avoided by assigning to the spouse in need interest, rent, or dividend paying assets—bonds, stocks, rental property. Another variant is that one spouse stays in the home for a period of time that both agree has a certain value. Or perhaps when the couple have children or grandchildren, one spouse agrees to contribute a certain amount each year to a 529 college savings plan, especially if the tax deduction is more valuable to that spouse than to the other.
Mediation of family finance in divorce is about creating a conversation that leads to the discovery of options that a couple has not yet imagined. Like most mediation it proceeds through several steps—defining what each person wants, translating wants into needs, generating options that meet those needs, deciding on the best options, and signing an agreement that creates a viable financial future for each.
PO Box 756
Newport, OR 97365 USA
541 995 4785
cell 541 351 5205