Let’s go back to the start

That it would be good if what changed in divorce-land was clear to everyone. However, a divorce is so much more than a legal thing; ending a marriage or settling marital conditions. It is an experience in a human life. A phase. If you see life with relationships and divorces as phases on the timeline, it also becomes clear that so much more could be done in the phase(s) before the divorce to make the divorce phase run differently and not just focus at the moment of the divorce itself.

People make choices and live their own lives. They buy a house. Have children. Raise them. All with relatively little government interference and without thinking about the law. In the event of a divorce, legal provisions and obligations are suddenly activated, and a judge will determine how much time you are allowed to spend with the children if you cannot agree yourselves. This means a loss of autonomy and self-determination, which could be prevented by contracting. By amending the legal provisions on partner alimony, the legislation is now trying to promote the economic independence of women. Why only encourage this at the finish line when large gaps have already occurred in CVs and perhaps the work process has never “really” begun? In addition, no major campaign has yet been launched to raise women’s awareness of this change in society and its consequences.

Experience shows that many people live without thinking about this to a large extent during their relationship and are then confronted with unexecuted periodic settlement clauses during the divorce, which have to be settled, and inheritances that were spent on fun family holidays that have to be reimbursed. In addition, people’s understanding of the other partner’s financial situation has been greatly diminished by all kinds of digital apps that need to be logged in to get an overview, of which often only one partner has the log in code. In the past, an investment overview used to land on the doormat, but that is no longer the case today.

The increasing number of self-employed persons means that the lack of financial insight has increased significantly, because no fixed wage is earned anymore. When they divorce, people face the fact that they absolutely do not know what they are entitled to or what they would need. And if a partner is not willing to provide financial insight, the chance of polarization increases.

By intervening in the phases of a relationship before the divorce phase, there is much to be gained. The lack of conscious choices about money, what it stands for and transparency towards each other in that area, means that people do not know where they stand when they divorce and reinterpret history purely on the basis of the agendas they have at that time.

People often state that they would like to make agreements about partner alimony and the children (in the marital conditions). However, it is the provisions on partner alimony and the children that are now considered null and void by the judge, while voices in the literature have long argued that contracting on such matters should be possible, provided that there is the right instruction. In the US, it is common for the ladies of the upper class to include a provision in the marital conditions that they will receive a bonus for the care of the children in order to compensate them against the unused but earned Ivy League degree. This does not mean that this is the solution, but it is an example of deliberate thinking and contracting in order to create a clear rule during the relationship that the parties perceive as fair. After all, a concrete promise formulated correctly creates a relationship and guarantees a certain outcome for the future.

Much attention has also been paid to the parental promise, before or after the birth of the child, but there is also the question of the extent to which such agreements are binding and enforceable. In its report, the Parental Review Committee did write a little about the way in which agreements in a more parental situation could be reached very carefully with review by the special trustee and the court before pregnancy. Shouldn’t such a thing be possible for all parents so that in the future there will be less litigation about parenthood and its structuring?

It would nevertheless be nice if partners made more conscious choices and dared to enter into dialogue with each other in a well-guided manner on matters such as money, power, independence and care. In love and not just in dispute. This is not about avoiding conflict but about guiding conflict so that people know what they have in common at a certain stage and what they can expect. It can be painful if it turns out that you have different expectations; if that is the case, you might be able to know that sooner rather than later. As divorce professionals, we have a good idea of the breaking points that can arise from the lack of proper discussion between partners about money and wealth, for example about stopping working to take care of the children, but was that the intention forever?

If I could dream freely for a while, it would be very nice in my opinion if people could have more autonomy and self-determination by making agreements for their future after the right guidance based on conscious choices and evaluating them regularly.

That is the power and magic of the word. Let’s go back to the start and make a difference there.