We've all heard the statistic: roughly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. This translates to one divorce every thirteen seconds, and well over 6,000 divorces every single day. Looking at the big picture, divorce is a common event in modern America. Most of us know lots of people who have been divorced, and we consider it no big deal.
Until, of course, one of those divorces turns out to be our own. Then the realization hits home: just because divorce is common, it doesn't mean it's any less painful or difficult. When people divorce, they often need to turn to their parents for financial help during the transition from married to single. Like divorce itself, this situation is both common and surprisingly stressful.
Needing Help is Common and Natural.
It's natural, if inaccurate, to feel that if your marriage has ended you've somehow failed. Unfortunately, that feeling of failure may be amplified when you need to turn to your parents for financial help to get through a divorce.
Remember that divorce naturally comes with the increased financial strain of dividing households. Your household income has probably gone down, and you are now managing all the expenses alone. There are costs associated with the divorce itself; even the most reasonable legal fees are an expense you didn't have previously.
The pressure you're feeling isn't because you're a failure; it's because you're in a transition and your finances are in flux. This is a snapshot in time, and it's important to remind yourself that things will not always be this way. Your finances will stabilize and your income and expenses will become more predictable. Needing help in the meantime doesn't make you a failure. It makes you human.
Having Ground Rules Helps.
Anytime one person is providing financial support for another person's enterprise--be it a wedding, business venture, college education, or divorce--it's helpful to establish ground rules early on. Ground rules help people know what their rights and obligations are, and help preserve relationships. This is especially true in emotionally fraught situations such as divorce.
As soon as you know you need to ask your parents for financial assistance, or as soon as they offer it, it's time for a ground rules type of conversation. Talk about expectations, abilities, and needs--theirs and yours. Are they able to afford the assistance they want to give (or that you're asking for)? If they are expecting repayment, what type of plan works for all of you? What happens if you need to change the plan? What type of input, if any, are they expecting into your divorce in exchange for helping to bankroll it? Your best practice is to put the loan in writing. Courts consider loans from parents to be gifts unless there is a writing setting out repayment terms.
Ideally, decisions about your divorce are between you and your attorney and not with input from the person bankrolling your divorce; it's important that your parents are comfortable with that. Which brings us to our next point...
Avoid Slipping Back Into Old Patterns.
You're used to being an independent adult, but when you need to ask your parents for financial help, you may feel like you did when you were a child and were dependent on them. For many years, your parents cared for you because you were unable to care for yourself. That dynamic can be easy to fall back into, but it doesn't help you or your parents.
Even though you are once again in the position of needing financial support, that doesn't mean that you and your parents should slip back into old patterns of relating to each other. Needing financial assistance doesn't strip you of your adult status or your autonomy unless you allow it to. Maintain boundaries in an appropriate, respectful way. If you feel that your parents are treating you like a helpless or impulsive child, you might say something like, "Mom and Dad, I appreciate the financial help you're giving me, and I wish I didn't have to ask for it. I also appreciate your concern about what happens next, but you raised me to make good choices. I'm confident that with my lawyer's advice, I can make the right decisions in this divorce."
If you're a parent yourself, you know how much you want to protect and help your own kids. Remember that your parents probably feel the same, even though their child is an adult. Try to interpret their behavior toward you as coming from their protective instincts, not a lack of faith in you.
If you have questions about how best to manage financial concerns during divorce, please feel free to contact us at Mundahl Law. We look forward to working with you.