I’m surprised at the number of married clients who tell me they either haven’t been involved in the family finances, or they don’t know what their spouse owns. In many of these cases, their partner was secretive, or dismissive or evasive when faced with questions about the family, the business or their own finances.
Money problems are at the root of many separations I’ve seen. Even if it wasn’t the primary cause, conflict over money often plays an essential role in arguments and builds the level of distrust, leading a couple to decide to separate. So, it’s no surprise when money struggles plague the separation process.
Finances and Finding Common Ground
Often, the spouse who’s had control over the finances wants to ‘make a deal’ when it comes time to divide the marital property or decide on monthly support. Sometimes the bargain presented is calculated to be just enough to entice their partner’s agreement, to invite an emotional decision, while still falling short of an equal division.
If you’re the one on the receiving end of this kind of offer, you may want to see all the account statements and company records, but may also dread the struggle you know you’ll face prying the documents out of your ex’s sweaty clamped fists. Or you can’t be bothered because ‘money isn’t everything.’ Or perhaps you strongly suspect that your ex is willing to commit fraud, hiding the assets or transferring them into someone else’s name without leaving a trail.
It may be that your fears prove to be unfounded. I’ve had clients fearing the financial disclosure process be pleasantly surprised. My intervention as a family lawyer may be enough to get financial disclosure from your ex.
Three Ways of Reaching Financial Happiness
I find it’s common for people to have a lot of questions about what to do to legally separate after making the decision to part ways. There are 3 overall steps: 1 – financial disclosure; 2 – negotiations over terms (parenting schedule, custody, support, property division); 3 – separation agreement. Getting all the financial cards on the table, including both parties’ incomes and all property belonging to either or both people jointly, allows the process to move ahead.
Repercussions of Financial Secrecy
If your ex won’t hand over the financial info, the only way to force him or her to give you the information is to hire a hitman. Uh, ahem, that’s your inside voice talking…you would start a family court application and get a court order for all the financial documents you need. Being secretive about the finances can create conflict that harms your kids, blows up your relationship and may cost both of you thousands or tens of thousands or more in legal fees.
Most people are afraid of what will happen to them financially through a separation. Maybe your ex who seems sneaky is fearful of what the future holds, financially. Perhaps you’re both afraid – that’s normal. One of the ways to reach a better outcome for your whole family is to make a decision to work together and be fair to each other in your divorce.
The Collaborative Process and You
For my clients who have kids to take care of and years ahead of them as co-parents, and who are willing to give up financial secrets, I often recommend the collaborative process. A collaborative financial specialist works with both people to collect all the financial documents, generate support options and mediate the property division options, providing 5 and 10-year forecasts for each spouse. Both people get advice from a collaborative lawyer before signing off on the final deal. In the words of one of my clients, the collaborative process “helps my kids feel like they still have a family” after divorce.
Whatever you do, take the fear and the mystery out of your financial questions and your separation process. Talk to a family lawyer, to ensure you understand your rights and your obligations. Written by Toni Nieuwhof Family Law Lawyer.