When we get married we make a conscious decision to become entangled with our partner. As they say, we “tie the knot.” We move from being individuals to being a partnership. We entangle our personal lives, our finances and our assets and obligations. We may decide to become parents and get further entangled in the responsibility of caring for and providing for these others we have brought into the world. Our lives become intertwined, muddled and jumbled up. When we decide to divorce our work is to set forth on the task of untangling ourselves from each other. In this week’s blog we dive a little deeper into this concept of “untangling” and discuss a few circumstances where divorcing couples might consider remaining tangled.
So What Needs to be untangled? When it comes time to divorce there are three areas of our lives that need to be reorganized. These areas involve the sharing of our children, the management of our finances, and the division of the assets and obligations we have accumulated along the way. The longer our relationships, typically the more complicated the untangling becomes. The unwinding might be a lot easier if we do not have children. Sometimes couples will enter into premarital agreements that further minimize the amount of tangling that takes place during the course of the marriage. Let’s check in with each area quickly.
Sharing of Children It is a lot easier to navigate the maintenance of relationships, the providing of supervision and guidance, and tending to the meeting of all the needs of the children when both parents are in the same home. A big part of the untangling is to figure out how to move from a one home to a two home system while maintaining structure and stability for the children and giving both parents suitable parenting time. There is a lot to work through. There are work schedules, activity schedules, doctors appointments, special needs, changing schedules, unforeseen circumstances, etc. There is also the task of coming up with a schedule that meets the needs of the children while also satisfying both parents and allowing the children frequent and continuing contact with both parents. The child sharing issues are often a big can of worms to get untangled.
Finances When we are married we make family decisions on the management of the finances. Maybe one spouse doesn’t work, or adjusts their schedule to allow for more availability with the children. Perhaps with both parents working full time the household finances remain tight while living together. With separation we now have to account for having more expenses as it costs more to maintain separate homes. We need to tackle how to make the finances work short term as well as long term. How will the finances be handled on an interim basis? What are reasonable expectations for transitioning to a more permanent arrangement? This might involve going and getting a job, moving from part time to full time, reducing expenses, etc. Much of the finances are typically addressed through child and spousal support orders wherein the support gets paid and given the support amounts, each spouse is required to maintain the payment of their household expenses. Sorting out the finances is one of the hurdles that must be navigated to unravel things.
Dividing the Accumulation The third bit of untangling on the agenda is sorting out who is going to take what asset and who will be responsible for which obligations. California is a community property state which starts with the presumption that all assets and obligations accumulated between the date of marriage and the date of separation are community assets and are to be equally divided. There are exceptions, but the task at hand is identifying the community stuff and sorting out how to fairly divide it. Some things like bank accounts, the furniture and furnishings and the vehicles, provide a simple means of fairly dividing. You can figure out how much money is in the bank account and split it. Things like houses, businesses and retirement are a bit more complicated. For example, dividing the family home involves sorting out which spouse, if any, will keep it, how much equity is in it, and how will the other spouse get bought out and removed from the mortgage loan.
What about Staying Tangled? There are situations where couples will entertain resolving their divorce while keeping certain entanglements in place. A good example is where the couple agrees to continue to jointly own the family residence, or maybe even a business. With regard to custody arrangements, they may fashion a nesting type arrangement where the children remain in the family home and each parent leaves when it is not their time with the children. The Court will accept these types of arrangements but only upon the agreement of the parties. Otherwise, the work in a divorce is to untangle all things that keep us bound together.
Yes, but include an Exit Plan. Whenever a couple decides that they want to continue to jointly own an asset, where one spouse does not require the other spouse to remove them from an obligation, or even when there is a nesting type arrangement with children, I strongly encourage that an exit strategy be built into the agreement to address what happens when either spouse wants to stop the arrangement. Setting forth the right to dispose of the house when it becomes desirable to do so, or the option to later require a spouse to refinance a joint loan, or an alternate plan that will commence when a nesting arrangement is no longer acceptable to one of the parents, should be part of any agreement. It is great to have the option to get creative and remain joint owners but essential that you account for the possibility of things changing and provide a clear map of what the exit will look like in the event it does.
So, What is needed for the Untangling to take place? Your divorce is complete once all the untangling has been completed. As I have chronicled throughout my prior blog posts, to complete the work you just need to have a clear understanding of your rights and responsibilities under the law. This involves getting educated either through a neutral mediator or hiring an attorney to provide advice. It involves exchanging information and documents so you and your spouse have fully disclosed as the Court requires and you have a clear understanding of the extent of your assets and obligations as well as a clear picture of each spouse’s income and expense situation. With that, the untangling is ready to begin. Now, you just need to gain a better understanding of the options available and an avenue of communication so things can be sorted out outside of Court or hearings scheduled to have the issues addressed by the Judge.
We have made divorce so complicated, but when all is said and done all we really need to do is find a fair and reasonable way to untangle our lives which we have spent our entire marriages getting all tangled together. We can efficiently do this if we take the simple steps of getting educated, cooperating with exchanging information and then diving into the work of getting things divided and sorted out. Tangles always look the most twisted and jumbled at first glance. Once you take the simple steps to get ready and prepared, the task of untangling is really not as challenging as it first looked.