My Money, My Choices
Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a personal finance writer, television host and radio broadcaster. Every Wednesday, she arms Metro readers with tips to keep spending in check.
Why you should opt for a common-sense divorce
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Trying to get a divorce? Wondering why it’s taking so long and costing so much? Family courts are backlogged because we’ve been conditioned to believe the divorce process has to be both litigious and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be either of those things. If we applied some common sense — putting the beginning of our next chapter ahead of the retaliation we feel for ending the last chapter — it could be a much smoother process.
The Ontario government knows that marriage dissolution is a right mess. It’s looking for ways to encourage people to talk it out rationally in order to keep families out of court. That’ll keep more money in people’s pockets too.
Darren Gingras, president of The Common Sense Divorce (with which I am affiliated) says, “In my work as an independent financial broker, it wasn’t uncommon to encounter clients who had just come through a divorce process. Most of the time, my clients found themselves emotionally distraught, financially devastated and with their credit destroyed.”
There’s got to be a better way. It seems the trick is to recognize from the get go that divorce is going to suck, that how much you contribute to the brouhaha will dictate how much it costs, and there are alternatives: mediation and collaborative divorces are the smarter way to go.
Nobody gets married thinking the relationship will end in divorce. Even as I was marrying my third husband and my lawyer was shouting “pre-nup, Pre-nup, PRE-NUP!” I thought it would be my forever relationship. When the crap does hit the fan, angry partners are inevitably given incorrect information or unrealistic expectations by well-meaning friends and family. That’s only one of the dumb mistakes divorcing people make. Do I really have to tell you that a friend or family member’s legal and financial guidance is as good as the money you’ve paid for it? Or that hiding assets from your spouse is a bad idea? Or that creeping your ex on social media has no upside?
If you have no idea of the options available to you and assume incorrectly that you’re in for a battle royal — with long, drawn-out court appearances and expensive litigation as your only option — how will you pay for it all?
Money. Yup, it’s the fighting over who will get how much, not the legalities of a divorce process, that causes costs and emotions to run high. And when those costs get out of hand? Oy! The average price of a contested divorce in Ontario is $15,800 per person. The average price of a contested divorce that goes to court is $23,900, taking anywhere from one to three years to finalize.
So its time to stir some common sense into the divorce mix. It’s time to set aside animosity, irrational behaviour, and unfettered escalating costs, and remember the point is to get out of the last chapter with dignity and enough money to start the next.
Don’t think you’ll get out of your marriage with a bill for $4.95. That’s not going to happen. But you can keep more of your family’s money in your each of your pockets if you show a willingness to discuss and negotiate. And if you find the right team to help you navigate the rocky shores of the divorce process, you’re that much more likely to sail into safe harbur.
So why is a common sense, mediated divorce a good idea?
• It’ll cost 75 per cent less than going to court.
• You will come to an agreement with your ex (who will be your ex for perhaps longer than you were married!)
• Your privacy is maintained. Go to court and your personal information becomes a matter of public record.
• You create a win/win. The separation agreement you come up with can be better tailored to your specific situation.
• There will be less stress on the kids.
• It’s faster. You can take years to get through the courts or be done in half the time with a mediated divorce.
• You matter. You’re not just a file number or a catalyst for billable hours. Getting you through to the next chapter whole and healthy is part of the mediation process.
The very idea of divorce can be so scary that people actually stay put rather than having to deal with the perceived complications. Gingras says his phone rings off the hook right after major holidays and long weekends when people finally face up to the need to make a change in their lives. They’ve simply had enough and denial won’t work anymore.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who knows what’s going to happen next explain each step along the way? You can have that. And you can have a team of experts that knows the ins and outs of what you have to consider as you make your decisions. (You do know that family lawyers don’t know squat about money management, right?) And you’ll have someone to remind you that divorce isn’t about winning, something a lot of people duking it out in court have forgotten.
There are no winners in divorce. Everyone loses something. Kids lose having access to both parents 24/7. Mates lose their great loves, their best friends, their happily-ever-afters. But applying common sense to the process — taking the divorce off the battlefield of court and into the mediation room — means you can manage the loss, both emotionally and financially.