“I have to stay in this house, and I will do anything to keep it”

“I will not pay my spouse for longer than necessary; I have worked hard to make a nest egg for us and he/she does not deserve it”

“It’s unfair that my spouse is leaving me financially strapped since I do not work/do not earn as much and have to start over”

As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and Financial Advisor, I hear statements like this every day from clients.  Managing expectations, having hard conversations and setting new goals with clients are a regular part of my daily activities.  Identifying each spouse’s fears and desired outcomes are an important part of the divorce process. For some, this can feel like a huge loss, and for others, it means an opportunity to reinvent the way they relate to their financial affairs. Behavioral finance studies have shown that we are hardwired to feel a financial “loss” much more than the feel the excitement of a financial “gain”.  The Limbic System in our brain controls our emotions, including fear and excitement, and it reacts very quickly.  The Cortex system is tasked with helping us understand logic and make rational decisions and takes more time to work.  Together, these two systems control our behaviors and also contribute to our ability to handle loss and our pursuit of reward.  In divorce, these two systems are working overtime as you take in new information and try to discuss rational outcomes during a very emotional time. 

Here are some actionable steps to help keep your emotional brain in check, and let your rational brain do more of the heavy lifting:

1. Identify your financial “archetype”

Are you a “saver”, or “pleasure seeker”?  Are you a “star” or an “empire builder”?  Perhaps you might have been and “idealist” during your marriage, but you now realize that you may be more of a “realist” when you take a closer look at your spending and saving patterns.  Exploring and acknowledging your behavior towards money can dictate what you will need to hold on to or change post-divorce when managing assets on your own going forward. It is not uncommon for two spouses to have opposite archetypes, which is sometimes one of the reasons for divorce in the first place!

2. Visualize how you want to feel post-divorce.  

Perhaps after completing a budget, you realize that your marital home is too expensive for you to maintain.  If you are feeling less than confident that you can retire at the age you originally wanted, maybe you decide to find a higher paying job or switch careers.  Feeling that you can comfortably pay your monthly obligations (hell yes!) will feel much better than living on a tight budget each month, and not knowing if you can afford the “extras”. In addition, think of how you want to co-parent after all is said and done.  This is easier said than done in some circumstances but putting your children first will always make you feel better, no matter what your spouse is doing.

3. Manage your expectations. 

Consult an attorney and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst to realistically discuss your outcomes, and to help you negotiate a settlement that works for you.  If you are hell bent on staying in the home, perhaps you are giving up other liquid assets that will make life more comfortable for you in the future.  Maybe you will experience a “financial windfall” but are unsure of how to manage your assets to support your lifestyle. Either way, understanding what you own, what you owe, and what you are negotiating will provide you with the knowledge and confidence on how to own your financial future.

4. Take a deeeeeeeep breath. 

This defining moment in your life will not dictate how the rest of your life will be.   Take one decision at a time.  Try not to think too far ahead; just try to make the next best actionable step.  Once the dust settles, your emotions will have settled down and you can start to plan to next step into your future.  Lose the shame and guilt you may carry from mistakes made in your past- today is a new day to start again.

Jane McAuliffe is a Partner and Fee-Based Financial Advisor with Axis Advisors Group and the President and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) at Collaborative Divorce Strategies, a Divorce Financial Planning and Mediation firm located in East Providence, RI. She was recently appointed to the Board of Advisors of the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts. She has successfully survived divorce, and now loves helping others navigate their way through as well.  She wears many hats on any given day- financial advisor and educator, part-time therapist, Chief Chaos Coordinator to 2 tweens, but mostly enjoys hearing success stories and cheering on her clients post-divorce.