Recently I sat down with my client, “Jane” for a “moment of truth” meeting. The culmination of several client meetings and extensive number crunching, it was apparent that Jane’s primary financial goal wasn’t realistic. Above all else, Jane wanted her three children to experience little to no change in their current lifestyle.
Based on my projections, that wasn’t likely to happen without significant financial sacrifice on Jane’s part.
The kids’ lifestyle included private school tuition, overnight summer camp and a plethora of expensive extra-curricular activities. As a parent of young children, I empathize with the desire to keep things as stable as possible in the midst of a tumultuous time. As a divorce financial planner, however, my job is to inject a dose of reality into the emotional roller coaster of divorce. I want my client to understand the short term and long term financial impact of their settlement before they sign on the dotted line.
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 automatically considered. 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. 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.
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. The kids understood that they couldn’t attend every camp they had in the past, but would be able to choose one special experience. Jane didn’t burden her children with specific numbers or financial worries, rather, she initiated a dialogue about prioritizing to keep the family stress-free.
It may feel uncomfortable to discuss finances with children, especially as it relates to divorce. However, frank money talks and responsible role modeling on the part of their parents help children set and achieve their own financial goals as they venture into adulthood.