We’ve all heard the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But when you’re trying to leave an abusive relationship, negotiating how to divide your assets may seem less important than physical safety or just keeping your sh*t together for your kids and your job.
Even if you aren’t leaving a toxic relationship, divorce is stressful and often brings out the worst in people. No matter what your ex says or does, your financial health and what you take away from the marriage is to help establish a good, stable and financially-secure home for your children.
My ex told me all kinds of crazy things that, embarrassingly, I fell for. He was/is connected to our legal community and used his status to manipulate, bully and threaten me into a “uncontested” divorce which he quietly took to a local judge who signed off on it.
Just remember, to a narcissist, everything is your fault and he is the victim. Wrap your head around that and you’ll have a better chance of taking your emotions out of it and making better decisions when he tells you something/offers advice. It’s similar to when your toddler threw a fit or whined to try and get something. You look at them calmly and let them know where your boundaries are.
He said if I pushed for half of our assets, I’d lose and get nothing. He said he would also take our children away from me if I tried to go after any of our assets and that I wasn’t entitled to child support.
I forgot how much it actually costs to set up an entire household. Most people accumulate their things over time, like when you go away to college and start a home with your spouse. Starting over by buying home essentials, kids clothes, furniture, etc. adds up quick.
You need to have a thorough and comprehensive look at your financial situation and plan accordingly. There are several things you want to avoid when dividing your assets especially with a narcissist.
- Get emotional. Stick to the business of dividing assets. It doesn’t matter who did what.
- Assume that they will be fair and act in the best interest of your children.
- Just walk away. Not only did I think that there was a chance that what he was telling me was true, but I also thought that if I just let him win, the abuse would stop. People say that the path of least resistance can be the best policy when extricating yourself from a narcissist. I disagree. And my experience has proven that his “wins” are ultimately never enough and only pacify him for a short period of time.
- Take all of the debt. Unsecured debt is a shared liability, not just the person’s whose name it is in.
- Settle for less than half of your assets. I put him through law school and was the primary bread winner until I had our second child. At that point, I quit my job to stay at home and raise our kids. His reasoning was that since I supported us for six years and he supported us for 12, I wasn’t entitled to anything. It didn’t matter that my 401k went to him to start his law practice, or that I bought our first home, which we still owned, or that my family kept us afloat during his lean years, or that my income made up 1/3 to 1/2 of our monthly family income (at least the part I saw.)
- Skip Discovery. Between his business accounts and cash from his clients, I had no idea how much money he made. Discovery is key.
- Underestimate the value of property. Rental properties are worth more than just their actual value.
- Forget to evaluate pension plans and other retirement.
- Forget to look at your long-term financial health and the needs of your children. They will need cars, insurance for those cars, college, etc.
- Underestimate the cost of the kids. Everything from class parties, yearbooks, and school supplies to clothes, extracurricular activities, and school projects costs money. What is a fair division of those? Don’t leave anything off the list. Who pays for summer camp?
- Confuse community property and separate property.
- Take your spouse’s word for it. If your spouse owns a business, get a business valuation and have someone seriously look at all financial documents and assets.
- Let him just wear you down. The whole thing is exhausting even if it isn’t contentious. It’s tempting to just throw your hands in the air and be done. Go exercise instead, or call your girlfriends. Fill yourself up with self care and then look at the financials again.
- Give up child support or set up a private arrangement. Going through the attorney general’s office allows them to track payments and then enforce on your behalf if things go south. This is much better than having to hire an attorney and take your ex back to court.
- Shoot for unreasonable timelines. Gathering all of this takes time and yes, it’s draining. If your soon-to-be-ex is a narcissist, you will be in for a long battle.
- Forget about taxes and deductions. When it comes to filing, things like “head of household” and who claims which child on their taxes needs to be clarified in the divorce.
Women who initiate a divorce can be made to feel guilty especially by a narcissist because they NEED to win. Women often end up walking away from anything that resembles fair. But it isn’t just about being fair, it’s about continuing to provide for your children.
Doing your due diligence when it comes to getting a comprehensive look at your financial affairs is reasonable and equitable. You can’t divide something if you don’t know what that something is. Keeping your wits about you and your emotions in check (easier said than done) is key when divorcing a narcissist.
It’s also important to remember that your lawyer is not a financial advisor. He or she can advise you based on their experiences, but if you have a complicated financial situation, it may be better to hire a specialist. Also, remember that this is not about taking someone to the cleaners or revenge. It is about dividing your assets in a reasonable and equitable way to provide two financially secure homes for your children.
Disclaimer: I’m not a financial adviser or lawyer.