The Wolf Is At the Door—Sharing Money in Divorce
An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil—he is fearful, angry, jealous and negative. The other is good—he is happy, peaceful, positive and content.”
The grandchildren thought about it for a minute, and then one asked, “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?” The Elder smiled and replied, “Whichever wolf I feed.”
Dealing with the Angry, Fearful “Wolf”
Ending a marriage is an emotionally difficult time. People often describe their thoughts as a roller coaster of ups and downs. It’s as if you have two wolves inside of you vying for your energy and attention.
Many clients come to mediation with their angry, fearful wolf screaming loudly. They are afraid that the New York State Child Support Guidelines or pension distribution may be unreasonable in their circumstances. There are practical decisions to be made about sharing money in divorce that may get hijacked by emotional responses. I often ask clients, “Would you rather be happy or right?” There is rarely just one answer to a challenge, and each party may cling to their “truth” because the alternative feels so scary.
When budgets and the guidelines are looked at together, more positive and gentler solutions tend to emerge. Mediation offers a neutral setting to explore what would be a difficult conversation at your kitchen table. It helps both people find a way to feed the gentler and more positive wolf.
Preparing for a New Financial Reality
One of the biggest challenges in mediation is making sure that both parties will be financially OK. It’s not unusual that the combined marital income supported a comfortable life with plenty of discretionary spending. Eating out, vacations, and lots of activities for the kids were real options. Now, both parties may have to be more frugal as “one tablecloth needs to fit across two tables.”
Preparing a good budget is essential. It’s part of the homework that clients complete before starting the mediation process. Clients prepare the budget imagining that they will live separately. I encourage clients to complete this process independently. It is a very good way to learn about future expenses, especially if one person is less familiar with the day-to-day expenses.
During mediation we review each person’s budget, and the conversation is useful and illuminating. Once the non-discretionary items like rent, groceries, insurance, car payments, and utilities are revealed, often there is not a whole lot left for discretionary spending. Couples begin to understand that it is a shared challenge to make ends meet for both of them.
The Financial Data Speaks for Itself
In this way, the gentler wolf begins to be fed. Because the data speaks for itself, the couple can have a gentler conversation about sharing money in divorce. When clients are made aware of the NYS child support guidelines, they have a more realistic context regarding what makes sense for the two households.
Another reassuring part of the conversation about sharing money is that mediation invites a lot of “what-ifs” into the discussion. Clients can build into their agreement concerns about future changes. How would a change in income, employment, or other circumstances trigger an adjustment or modification on how parents share money after divorce?
Resiliency Makes You Stronger
The wolf story has a lot of wisdom for your personal healing, adjustment to ending a marriage, and life’s stresses. If you feed yourself negative thoughts, you’re likely to end up experiencing anxiety, fear, anger and sadness which can easily sabotage your life. If you feed yourself positive thoughts, you’re likely to experience an all-round sense of peace, and you’ll be much more likely to find the resiliency you need for yourself and your children.
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