Financial Guide: Psychological Warfare

1. Introduction

2. Psychological Warfare

3. Property in General

4. Maintenance / Alimony

5. Modification

6. Specific Assets

7. The Marital Home

8. The Family Business

9. Tying it All Together

10. Post Tax Outcome

11. Maintenance for Property

12. Closing Thoughts

13. About the Author

The Role of Psychological Warfare

Before I deal with the “rules” of divorce, I should first discuss the psychological dimension. I don’t mean by this that I presume to speak outside my field – I make no pretension to psychological expertise. But, on the other hand, no seasoned divorce lawyer can intelligently ignore the opposing parties’ likely attitudes, priorities and motivations.

Divorce, like any war (you may prefer the word “conflict”) requires that its generals consider at every turn their opponent’s state of mind.

At Cordell & Cordell, our experience has been that the wife’s position as to money can in many cases be anticipated by the dynamics underlying the decision to divorce. Let me present to you two very broad scenarios which, it has been our experience, generally describe at least 75% of America’s divorces.

Although it is true that divorces of necessity defy stereotyping by age or gender, the balance (ie, divorces of preference) do not. In fact, the great majority of divorces readily fall into one of two categories, depending on who wants out. Men and women choose divorce at different points in life and for different reasons. This was discussed in detail in “Dad’s Guide to Custody” as follows:

Regarding men, it is not surprising to hear that if a man is going to divorce, he is most likely to do so in his 40s. This is the period in most men’s lives when they are enjoying more income, more success, and more respect than ever before. Furthermore, their prospects are the greatest during this period in their careers.

Worsening matters further, men are often considered more attractive in their 40s than at any other time in their lives. You may find it interesting to know that despite Cordell & Cordell’s almost entirely male clientele, I estimate that such men comprise no more than 10% of our client base. I must confess that this is not true because I sanctimoniously turn them away, although this has happened. I believe it is true because the stereotype is grossly overstated by the media.

Now let us consider the other gender: is there a pattern to be found among women in their decision to get divorced? (Let us first put aside gender-free circumstances- which I refer in Your Civil War: A Father’s Guide to Custody as the “fatal four”.) What is left is an unmistakable and almost invariable profile of women who choose divorce. They are in their 30s; their husbands, by the wives’ own description, are decent guys; they have young kids; and, almost invariably, they have a boyfriend.

Every day I meet with a man in his 30s whose wife wants a divorce. My client is usually stunned and confused. His wife is sending mixed signals, and her reasons for wanting a divorce are vague. She even seems, at times at least, ambivalent as to whether she wants the divorce. My client desperately wants to save the marriage.

His tendency is to blame himself and to irrationally focus on his deficiencies as a husband. He tends to cling to her (in effect if not in fact), repeatedly asking for another chance. He pathetically assures her he will do better. If I ask him what exactly there is for him to do better, he commences an anguished recital of a much-considered and lengthy list of his spousal failings. As I listen, I realize these items cannot, even cumulatively, explain his wife’s decision.

What my client does not yet realize, however, is that his wife’s decision to surrender her family has nothing to do with him. I believe the stimulus is something much deeper. The fact is that women in their 30s are intensely conscious of aging. You do not have to have a Ph.D. in sociology to realize that the fact of aging is of more importance and urgency to your wife than it is to you.

Women in this culture (perhaps in all cultures) have not failed to notice that physical and sexual attractiveness are powerful and frequently determinate factors in their relationships with men. Therefore there is a closing window of opportunity for women in their 30s to obtain a desirable mate. For married women this means a lateral move or, better still, the opportunity to trade up. Put differently, the cement is drying. If such a woman is not completely “fulfilled” (whatever that means), she must take steps soon, if ever, to rectify the situation.

The practical implication for you of these stereotypes is that your wife’s position as to your money is likely affected. Absent the “fatal four”, if your wife is the one leaving, she is far more likely to minimize or even forego maintenance as well to be reasonable regarding assets and attorney fees. Conversely, if the shoe is on the other foot, I typically expect for the wife a dispute driven as much by vindictiveness as by greed. Incidentally, the latter motivation is far more manageable than the former. What’s the phrase – “Hell hath no fury…….”?

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