Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Divorce myths exploded #1: My spouse is a jerk, I will get everything

For reasons not altogether clear to me, the idea that “my spouse is a jerk, I will get everything” remains a widespread and mistaken belief among women (and a few men) seeking divorce. Whether you live in a community property state, like California or Texas, or in one of the other 48, judges in divorce cases rarely deviate very much from a roughly equal split of the couple’s assets in a divorce.

In my experience in hundreds of cases, property division of 55/45 is about as good as it gets for the "innocent" spouse, even in cases where the other spouse has been unfaithful, abusive, or both. Judges just don't punish unfaithful spouses, especially men who have been primary bread winners, by a grossly unequal property division in a divorce, even though many divorcing spouses believe that such a ruling would be "fair" or "justice".

As a consequence of this mistaken belief in the eventual outcome of the divorce litigation, many women spend an inordinate amount of time and money to document the extent of the indiscretions. As they describe their motivation, it is primarily in hopes of persuading the judge to “punish” the unfaithful spouse through a “90/10” property split in favor of the injured spouse. Regardless of the value of the marital estate, up to billions of dollars, I know of NO case where such a punishment has been meted out by a divorce court.

Any competent attorney and the financial expert he hires will attempt to document how much of the couple’s money was spent financing the affair, and will ask the court to reimburse the injured spouse for those expenses, before the court divides the marital estate in a final decree. While the total expenses for these extramarital recreational activities may reach into the thousands of dollars, it never reaches a number which represents a significant percentage of the couple’s assets.

The Positive Divorce bottom line: bad conduct by a spouse MAY move the court to divide the marital estate 55/45 in favor of the “innocent” spouse, but that’s about as far it is likely to go.

So, have reasonable expectations about how divorce courts divide property and be prepared to settle when your lawyer tells you the offer is as good as you can reasonably expect.

Develop a vision for your financial future based on those realistic expectations for your starting point, develop a strategy for building on it from there, focusing on factors YOU can control.

Positive Divorce means accepting the challenge of being in charge of your own financial life again, and building on the opportunity to start a new and more prosperous life.

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