In my financial planning practice and working as a financial neutral helping divorcing couples sort out financial issues it is often challenging for clients to clearly articulate future goals. I am not talking about the kinds of goals such as I want the house or this or that possession. Those types of statements really are what we call positions.
I am talking about big picture interest based goals for your future. You might ask why this is important. I just want to be done with this divorce so I can move on. The problem is being done does not necessarily mean you will be better prepared to move on. More than likely if your focus is to be done, moving on will probably be very challenging for you. Establishing your goals at the very beginning of a collaborative divorce is critically important because goals establish a foundation for future discussions, negotiations, and more importantly stronger communication channels with your soon to be ex-spouse. Goals may be about any particular topic. Usually they fall into the three broad categories of parenting, financial, and relationships.
Let us say for instance it is important for you to remain in the same school district so your children are not uprooted to new schools at the same time you and your spouse will soon be living in separate residences. Moving to a new school district while moving to two separate households may create significant insecurity for your children. This goal example states what the goal is: keep the kids in the same school district, and the why: to minimize the insecurity to your children. From this one goal, we can then figure out the who, when, and how. This single goal may produce discussions about housing, transportation, children’s activities, financial decisions, and overnights with one parent or the other that can lead both spouses to be stronger co-parents for the benefit of their children.
Another goal example in the area of financial matters may be; we want financial viability for both households so we can have a sense of financial security. Note this is not a statement about who gets what but rather a statement about how you want to feel. No one ever tells me his or her goal is financial insecurity.
An example of a relationship goal may be; we want to continue extended family relationships and participate together in family events as possible and to recognize these relationships do not necessarily end just because our marriage is ending. Another relationship goal would be to describe how you want your relationship to be with your spouse post divorce.
Establishing clear big picture goals early on in the divorce process can help to keep you and other professionals on track. Goals give you and your spouse anchor points for the discussions and decisions that will need to be made concerning your futures. We all remember the old saying if you do not know where you are going any road will get you there. Divorcing couples will be wise to discuss together where they want to go by setting clear individual and joint needs and interest goals. Know where you are going. The Collaborative divorce process gives you this opportunity. Choose your process wisely.