There are usually two main flashpoints in divorce: money and children. When the two collide, it’s even more explosive. In this week’s blog we look at how to manage your emotions when your soon-to-be-ex is driving you money mad.
Three ways your soon-to-be-ex might be driving you money mad
Most financial disputes fall into one of three main categories: and there can be a whole range of behaviours at play in each of them. Does any of this sound familiar?
They’re not being honest about their finances
- They claim not to have money, yet you know their splashing out on meals and holidays
- They have a new partner but claim not to, or that the new partner doesn’t have money
- They refuse to disclose their finances
- They have made a financial disclosure but assets are missing
They are not being fair with the children’s expenses
- They are treating the children to expensive toys, meals and gadgets while you are scraping by
- They don’t contribute to basic costs, such as clothes or school equipment
- They won’t pay for any after school or weekend clubs
- They buy things for the children that you then have to maintain
They are trying to interfere with your finances
- They offer you unasked for financial ‘advice’
- They dispute your figures, even though you’ve researched and evidenced them
- They scrutinise your daily spending
- They remove lump sums from joint accounts
Are they clueless or controlling?
When you’re in the middle of divorce it’s easy to assume the worst. It’s normal to jump to the conclusion that they’re being obstructive with money because they are playing games, or want to hurt you. But that’s not always the case. And if you assume it is from the start, you risk blowing the situation up into something very nasty.
Sometimes your soon-to-be-ex will be making irrational or insensitive money decisions because they are being thoughtless. Remember, we all have our money stories. You can read all about how to understand and change your own money story here.
If your ex-spouse is a man, or was the main breadwinner in your marriage, it’s likely they will have some strong conditioning about being the provider. This carries with it a sense of responsibility, and often a sense of ‘being in charge’. Is this fair, or accurate? No! You don’t have to stand for it. But it isn’t the same thing as them being manipulative or systematically controlling. So you need to know, are they being clueless or controlling? You’ll need a different strategy for each.
So how can you tell what’s driving their behaviour? Ask yourself:
- Have they declared an intention to ‘bring you down’, ‘serve justice’ or otherwise punish you for leaving?
- Were they controlling with money while you were together?
- Do they like to belittle you, or find ways to lower your self-esteem?
- Do they have a pattern of not putting yours or your children’s needs before their own?
- Did they used to make decisions without consulting you?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions, it’s more likely that you’re dealing with a controlling spouse. Of course, this isn’t a diagnosis! Every situation is different. But, in general, a high conflict, controlling spouse will have exhibited similar behaviour within the marriage. If they have suddenly become more irrational or angry in their behaviour, it’s more likely they are reacting immaturely to the divorce.
If they’re being clueless with their money decisions
Two types of behaviour fall under the category of clueless: ‘thoughtless’ and ‘wounded’.
If your soon-to-be-ex is being thoughtless, chances are it hasn’t crossed their mind that their actions are having a negative impact on you. It might be that they are spending money according to their budget, not to out-spend you or try to buy your children’s favour, simply because that’s the budget they have. They might be giving you financial advice out of a genuine sense that they know what’s best. It doesn’t make it right, but it does mean it’s more likely you can address it sensitively without the situation escalating.
Aim to keep your communication calm, and neutral. Assume the best of your ex-spouse, and approach the situation as a problem to be solved, not as an issue to be fought over. You could raise the issue by saying something like:
‘It’s lovely that you bought Sophia dinner and ice cream at the pub after swimming last week, but she now wants me to do that every time too and I can’t afford it. Can we agree to some guidelines so she doesn’t get confused?’
‘Thanks for sending me those figures. I’ve got an accountant to help me, so there’s no need. It would be good for us to talk about a parenting plan, can we get a date in the diary to do that?’
If your partner is feeling wounded by your separation, it’s more likely they are deliberately lashing out. They might want to get their own back by spending lots of money on your children, or withholding information so you can’t agree to a fair financial settlement.
If this is the case, you need to tread carefully. In many cases, once the dust has settled, as long as you keep your boundaries firm, they will come around. Again, the key is in communication. You don’t want them to feel cornered, so they feel the need to attack even more. Keep being reasonable, but not giving any ground. Once they have had time to accept the reality of your separation and divorce, they may well be more reasonable. If that’s not the case, follow the advice I outline below.
If they’re being controlling with their money decisions
If they are being controlling with their money decisions, then this isn’t about money at all, it’s about control. For them, money is simply the most convenient or most powerful (or both) way to exert control. So what can you do?
Avoid negotiating directly
For most divorces, coming to agreement via mediation is the healthiest and most cost-effective way to reach resolution. That’s not the case with a high conflict personality. They’re not interested in resolution, they are interested in winning. Even more, they are interested in proving they are right. So get some expertise on your side if you can afford it. And if you can’t, create some distance. Don’t enter into negotiations, and insist on communicating via email. Keep email threads separate and clear. Start your emails with a brief summary of what was said in the last email with the time and date sent.
Don’t give them ammunition
Keep your communication brief and unemotional. Don’t give them unnecessary information or an insight into how this is affecting you. Seek support from trusted friends and family so you can vent. Work with a therapist if need be. Your health and wellbeing are precious. Remember less often is more.
Keep detailed records
If they are claiming you have more money that you do, or they have less than they do, then evidence is your friend. Keep records of all your financial dealings, as well as any communication pertaining to them. If you go to court you will have an opportunity to respond to their financial disclosure. You can read more about what’s involved in financial disclosure and how to query theirs on this blog.
Focus on your area of control
Ultimately, if they are intent on twisting the narrative to serve themselves, you won’t be able to change that. All you can do is be yourself. Stand up for yourself, live and act in line with your values and get the evidence around you to support your case. Don’t be tempted to sink to their level – this won’t look good in court, and isn’t good for your long-term future either, however satisfying it might feel in the short-term.
Let me help you plan
Are you struggling to understand why your ex-spouse is behaving like this? Or wondering what to do about it? I can help you dive into the specifics of your divorce, empowering you with strategies that will work for your unique case. And at the same time helping you navigate your own emotional journey, so you can stand strong, whatever is thrown at you.
Book a free consultation with me today, and let’s see how I can support you.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com