Recently, I sat down with my client, “Jane??? for what I like to call a “moment of truth??? meeting.
I called this meeting after a series of one on one sessions and extensive number crunching; as it was apparent that Jane’s primary financial goal was far from realistic.
Jane’s Current Lifestyle
Jane wanted her three children to experience little to no change in their current lifestyle but based on my projections; it was far from likely that it would happen without sacrificing the overall family’s long-term financial well-being.
The kids’ lifestyle included:
private school tuition
overnight summer camp
a plethora of expensive extra-curricular activities
Injecting a Dose of Reality
As a parent of young children myself, I truly empathize with the desire to keep things as stable as possible especially during tumultuous times. As a divorce financial planner, however, my job is to inject a dose of reality into the mix for my clients-before they make agreements they may come to regret in the future.
In this case, Jane was stunned to hear that child support wouldn’t cover all her minor children’s expenses. Like most states, Michigan’s child support formula factors the income of both parents, the parenting schedule, family size and the tax status of the parties into the equation. The actual expenses of the children are not an automatic consideration.
Jane assumed that since her husband had agreed in the past to prioritize private school tuition, he would be required to continue. That wasn’t necessarily the case.
Oh, and savings for future college costs? Not part of the formula. The same goes for horseback riding camps, travel soccer, music lessons, etc.
After several tough meetings and in-depth conversations, Jane made some difficult decisions.
The truth was that her kids’ expenses had contributed in some way to the divorce; she and her husband had been living beyond their means.
The Financially Empowering Moment and Lesson
On the advice of her therapist, Jane sat down with her kids to discuss developing a family financial game plan. That might mean downsizing their house or cutting back on some of the extras. It might even mean a change of schools.
However, it was empowering for them all (yes, even the kids) to know that they would be ok if they made smart financial decisions now to protect themselves for the future.
For example, they all agreed that it was more important for Jane to be home after school than it was for the kids to continue at any particular school.
Through their discussions, Jane refused to burden her children with specific numbers or financial worries. Instead, she initiated a dialogue about prioritizing to keep the family stress-free.
With that, the kids also understood that they could not attend every camp they had in the past, but would be able to choose one unique yet special experience.
The Moral of the Story
While it may feel uncomfortable to discuss finances with children, especially as it relates to divorce, you should. Not only is it the responsible thing to do but it can act as a powerful lesson which can help them set and achieve their own financial goals as they venture into adulthood.
Jacqueline Roessler is one of the premier divorce financial planners in the Midwest. Jacki, who has been a financial advisor since 1994, provides litigation support to family law attorneys and helps clients understand the short-term and long-term financial impact of any settlement proposal on their financial future—before they sign on the dotted line.