Lately, I have been noticing with more frequency, the amount of increased stress the legal and financial aspects of divorce have placed not only on the divorce process itself but more disturbingly on post-divorce life.
It is true that the majority of divorces are settled or mediated with the parties living up to their respective legal and financial obligations, never having to see a lawyer or courtroom again once the divorce is finalized, maintaining stress is at a minimum. However, for many, the stress levels post-divorce are the same or greater than they were while married. This is due to the rise in ex-husbands or ex-wives not living up to the financial obligations they had committed to as part of the divorce settlement or mediation agreement.
Some of this is caused by anger, spite, resentment, complete disregard for the legal settlement or changes in that financial situation of the obligated party. Once these divorce obligations to the ex-spouse are not met the stress level between parties elevates at an alarming pace and tensions develop between them. It then trickles down to the children and all of a sudden even post-divorce the family is in turmoil once again. Of course once the party receiving alimony and/or child support stops receiving payments and gets no cooperation from their ex-spouse, that’s when attorneys get back involved and the legal warfare begins again.
Heaps of motions get filed with the courts, appearance dates get set and changed, parties switch attorneys, payments don’t get made, tempers rise, accusations are flying and loads of money gets spent on attorneys and courts that could have been used to pay the spousal obligations. The matrimonial court systems in New York and New Jersey seem ill equipped to handle these matters in a sympathetic or timely manner. Most of the presiding Judges are rotated in and out of matrimonial court positions frequently, so decisions made by these Judges are then left to be enforced by a different Judge with no historical familiarity with the matter. Cases and motions drag on for months, sometimes years while no payments are being made. The spouse who is entitled to support and their children suffer financially and emotionally. While this legal wrangling perpetuates endlessly, the spouse who is entitled to support and their children suffer financially and emotionally and the non-paying spouse faces potential jail time.
When spouses sign the settlement, separation or mediation agreement it should be done with the intent to live up to the obligations they have agreed to. In order to avoid situations discussed above, neither spouse should agree to things that they know they can’t live up to in the future. It is for this reason, having a CPA who is experienced in divorce settlements, valuations, etc. is as crucial as having a sharp divorce attorney. Yes, circumstances change and both parties have to be willing to adapt to those changes whether they are negative or positive. However, obligations of a divorce settlement are not weapons to be used to cause pain and harm to ex-spouses but rather they should be the guidelines and vehicles for each party to be able to move forward in their post-divorce life.
– Scott Goldstein, Partner