Guiding Your Clients Through The Emotional Turmoil of Dividing The Assets

Let’s talk money – a core concern of any divorce experience

Let’s talk money – a core concern of any divorce experience. Most of us tend to think about money in terms of dollars and cents; about making the “right” financial choices. Money, however, is a much more complex part of our lives. Money has the capacity to trigger powerful subjective emotions in everyone. It symbolizes very different things to different people. Our feelings about money and how to manage it are largely dependent on our own unique family history.

In an earlier newsletter, I spoke of the goals of divorce as twofold; severing both the legal bonds and the emotional bonds. A viable divorce can only result from a careful and balanced consideration of these two distinct needs. Since money is intimately connected with divorce and divorce attorneys play an instrumental role in assisting their clients to create successful financial resolutions, it is imperative that they understand how the hot button of money can evoke emotional fireworks and disrupt the resolution of financial matters.

How Attitudes And Feelings Towards Money Impact Relationships

An individual’s interaction with money is one of the most important relationships in his or her life. The way someone feels about money says more about them than they may realize.

Usually, money is thought of in black-and-white terms – either there is enough of it or there isn’t. The truth is that money is chock full of psychological, emotional and symbolic meanings. A person’s relationship with money mirrors his or her conflicts, vulnerabilities fears, needs and desires.

Think about it. Money affects career and relationship choices. It is reflected in personal matters of control, self-esteem and even contributes to your overall sense of well-being. Most of the decisions people makes are formed, in part, by their individual beliefs about money.

Equating love and money, something frequently learned from one’s nuclear family, is an example of how money and feelings can be intertwined. Parents who don’t spend enough time with their children often say “I love you” by showering them with material gifts. When these children become adults, they can easily feel unloved unless that love is demonstrated with some material item.

An individual’s self-esteem can directly impact financial decisions as well as spending habits. If someone feels they don’t measure up to their own expectations or those of others, they might find themselves making costly and unnecessary purchases that only temporarily soothe their feelings of inadequacy and low worth.

Depression, anger, retaliation, boredom, envy, and the need to control others – all of these emotions can affect financial decisions. Emotional spending can be expensive and destructive.

Ideas about money can be gender-based. To many women, desiring money is considered greedy. Talking about it and going after it are unlady like. It is not unusual for women to hand over their economic lives to their husbands. This results in a kind of denial about money which sounds something like this; “I’ll do what it takes to get money but I don’t want to think about it.”

Women also sometimes equate money and care taking. It is not uncommon for successful, high-income earners who are capable of financial self-reliance to look to their spouses to support them. In their “book of rules,” if a man truly loves and cares for them, he will be the provider.

While women typically view divorce as the loss of a relationship, men are more likely to think of divorce in terms of division of property and assets. Women may be reluctant to stop thinking in terms of “our property,” while their husbands have little difficulty avoiding an “our property” mind-set.

Finally, the meaning of “security” and how to attain it may have different meanings to the divorcing spouses. A person can feel secure even though he may not be secure at all. Conversely, a person can be secure feel totally insecure. These attitudes will surely affect negotiating financial settlements.

Money And Emotions = “Oil And Water”

When a marriage breaks up, the last thing anyone feels like doing is crunching numbers. In the grip of fear for one’s very survival, physically and emotionally, exercising rational judgement can be an uphill battle. Add to that individual idiosyncratic feeling about money and the reality that many human beings have difficulty making logical decisions when it comes to their personal finances, it is no wonder that divorcing people find themselves in need of solid financial and emotional advice.

Emotions and money are a dangerous combination.

During the divorce negotiations, they need to be kept separate. Like oil and water, trying to mix money and emotions is futile. When it comes to dealing with money,emotions can be the client’s worst enemy, leading to both higher legal bills and frazzled nerves.

So, how do you help your client keep emotions out of the picture when attempting to resolve money matters? The key is helping the client to understand that while divorce is an emotional experience, and heart-wrenching personal and financial decisions must be made, these decisions need to be entered into with a dispassionate and business-like frame of mind. In other words, they need to think of themselves as making a business deal, one in which emotions must not be permitted to influence sound judgement.

Put simply, there is no place for a vindictive attitude or guilty feelings. Unresolved emotions must be either left at home or worked through with the help of a divorce counselor.

Tips For Helping Your Clients Deal With The Pain Of Dividing The Assets

During the divorce negotiations, your clients sense of worth and value will be in different places. Some will have moved beyond the walking-wounded stage while others will still be seeking revenge.

Ideally, neither person is a victim or a bully, but rather is a decent human being who wants to deal fairly with their spouse in resolving economic issues. Unfortunately, the reality is that many will still be too overwhelmed by feelings of fear, self-pity, anger, failure, and guilt to behave rationally.

The following tips will help your clients to eliminate any tendencies they may have to endanger their long-term economic interests by allowing their emotions to impede their judgement.

Be Involved. This is the time to encourage clients to relinquish their murky and oblique relationship to money. It is not enough for them to want to feel financially secure. They need to learn to think about their money and examine it. If they have previously left money matters in their spouse’s hands, now is the time for them to assume responsibility for their own economic interests.

Commit To A Budget. As newly single people learning to manage money independently, clients need to understand the importance of successful budgeting. They need to be realistic about their spending habits and prepared to adapt their budget to adjust to any lifestyle changes that may occur, whether these changes are for the better or worse.

Communicate. Divorcing individuals need to develop and be encouraged to maintain a relationship with a competent financial advisor. This means selecting a professional with whom they are comfortable communicating how their financial plan is being maintained and making any adjustments along the way, as needed.

Develop a new mind set. Keep reminding clients that they have separate, distinct, and competitive economic interests with their spouse. If they are to competently take charge of their divorce, they must see their property in terms of “yours” and “mine,” and no longer view assets as “ours.”

Banish Guilt. If your client is tempted to relinquish their share of the assets, remind them that they cannot “buy” away his or her guilty feelings. Suggest to them that they seek help from a professional divorce counselor so that their guilt does not blind them to what is reasonable and appropriate.

Avoid Settling Prematurely. Be aware of those clients who want to settle for less than what they are entitled to simply because they want the divorce to be over. Reinforce their need to build a strong and healthy future for themselves and help them to see that avoidance behavior will be very costly in the long run.

Don’t Allow Feelings of Helplessness. If your client is stuck in the ”woe is me” trap and is not producing the necessary documents and lists or is unwilling to discuss certain financial matters, remind the client that he has value and is capable of unwinding joint finances.

Stress Honesty. Suggest to clients that they do some introspection and assess how they really feel about money. They can ask themselves the following questions that may help identify the psychological factors driving their financial behaviour:

  • Is money a sign of power?
  • Do they use money to boost self-esteem?
  • Do they avoid budgeting?
    • Saving?
    • Investing?

Perhaps it is not more money they need to attain happiness, but instead a new state of mind about earning, spending and investing money.


Money carries multiple meanings to people and can trigger unique responses in them. Money is used to support, protect, honor, manipulate, reject and hurt others. Some divorcing people will lie and cheat for money, others will turn their backs on money to their own disadvantage.

Try telling someone who is in the throes of dividing marital property that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” It will not go over well. Divorcing men and women, overwhelmed by emotions, often react financially to their feelings. Sometimes, it is easier for them to make financial decisions about what they are entitled to based on hurt, anger or guilt rather than making a sound decision based on a working knowledge of finances.

When assisting their clients with the difficult task of dividing marital property, attorneys must do two things; validate their feelings and help them to keep these feelings separate from the business at hand. Financial decision making cannot be a forum for expressing deep emotions. Clients need assistance to mindfully examine their finances and let go of any emotionally driven approach /avoidance relationship with this most fundamental part of their life.

It is my sincere hope that all information on my website provides you with content that inspires you to enhance your relationships. These materials are not intended to be a substitute for my counseling services. If you are ready to make that leap, please click here to set up a complimentary consultation.


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