How NOT to handle money conversations in a divorce

money conversationsOver the years of working as a financial planner, I have seen enough to confirm one simple truth. Most couples are uncomfortable talking about money. We can chalk that up to societal norms that make money a taboo subject or to personality differences. There are also differences in knowledge and experience. It is not uncommon to see one spouse act as a financial guru in charge of money, while the other is a free spirit who has no idea if they even have a checkbook. In a divorce, that dynamic does not magically change for the better. Some of my cases would make great illustrations for a book on how NOT to handle money conversations in a divorce. Here are 4 common mistakes that I see clients make.

Mistake # 1: Hide money.

According to a poll by, about 6 million people in the U.S. (that is approximately 7% of the population) have concealed checking accounts, savings accounts or credit cards from their significant other. Nearly 20% have spent $500 or more without telling their partner. The bottom line of those statistics is that sometimes people lie about money. No matter what your past track record with openness about money issues looks like, remember that a divorce is not the time to hide bank accounts, investments and valuable assets. There are smarter ways to protect your money in a marriage and divorce that do not involve perjury!

Mistake # 2: Get angry.

Emotions run hot during even the most amicable of divorces, but allowing anger to cloud your judgment is a sure path to messing up your financial future. Find a constructive way to process your anger in conversations with a therapist or a friend so that you can go into the money conversations with a cool head. Listen to your neutral financial planner. He or she is working to find the best outcome for both spouses. Use the technical knowledge and experience of your neutral planner to avoid stepping off a financial cliff.

Mistake # 3: Ask for the moon.

Hurt people hurt others. This becomes particularly obvious around a property division negotiation table. All too often, spouses use money as a weapon to make up for the hurt, betrayal, disappointment and lost time. In reality, money cannot right the wrongs. It can give you a solid foundation for whatever is next, but only if you begin from a place of reason. Asking for everything may feel good for a moment, but it won’t move you any closer to the resolution.

Mistake # 4: Be a victim.

Divorce is a roller-coaster. Like roller-coasters riders, the participants in a divorce commonly feel like they have lost control. Resist the temptation to see yourself as someone who has no influence over the final outcome of the divorce. In other words, don’t be a victim. Be an active participant in the money conversations, show up prepared and ask for what you need. Be ready to reassess what you need if the progress of the negotiation indicates that you will likely need to give up on one thing in order to get something else you want.

There is a right way to handle money conversations in a divorce.

The sooner you can separate your emotions from planning for your life after the divorce, the better are your odds of finding solid ground. This is not easy, and no one expects you to do this on your own. Work with your neutral communications coach to get support during difficult conversations. Lean on your neutral financial planner for monetary guidance. Sometimes, adding an experienced therapist to the mix can help the progress, too. Anything that can help you keep a clear head and make good decisions during the divorce is to your advantage!

About Tracy Stewart

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