7 Steps to Balance Financial Inequality Between Co-Parents

By Lisa Brick

During the early stages of separation a fear many of our clients voice is that their children will prefer being with their more affluent parent because of his/her superior financial capabilities.  While it is true that the more affluent parent, either by income or family largesse,  is able to provide more and differently than the less affluent parent, the effect this has on the child’s relationship with this parent has more to do with how he/she handles the differences than the differences themselves.

In my opinion, how income inequality is handled has a more significant determinant of the impact it will have on children than the financial inequality itself.

A client recently shared his childhood experience of summers after his mother remarried a wealthy man.  Every year the family would fly off to some exotic locale.  While at first the new places were different and exciting he soon found himself longing to be at home to play with his friends, ride his bike, and do what he wanted to in a casual way.  He grew to hate staying in “fancy places” and being “dragged from place to place seeing things I had no interest in seeing.”  Rather than this bringing him closer to his mom it worked to create resentment towards her and, in his words, his loving step-dad.

.When the financial inequality is significant it will most likely be permanent. This is not an easy reality to accept yet resisting it leads to tremendous suffering while acceptance frees you up to begin strategizing about improving your financial situation from wherever it is now.

The following seven steps will provide a way forward that can maintain the love and closeness you have and want to continue with your children while you adjust to your changing circumstances.

  1. Recognize that all that glitters is not gold. What you think your kids will love about the affluence they experience with your ex may turn out differently than you anticipate.
  2. Put your bitterness towards your circumstances and your ex away when you are with your children. Expressing your fear, bitterness, and resentment around your children will poison their future relationships with significant others, with money, and possibly, with you. Your children are neither physiologically nor emotionally capable of understanding or helping you to adapt to the changes in your circumstances.  Professionals and  trusted family members or friends are the healthiest go-to resources while navigating divorce and its aftermath.
  3. Recognize that the love and opportunities your children have in their lives is a blessing for them, regardless of the source. While it may feel lousy that you aren’t the one able to provide the vacation house, the dog, the car, etc. appreciate the access that your children have to the perks.  Be bigger than your pain.
  4. Focus on what you can provide your children rather than what you can’t. Day trips to state or national parks, the zoo, local parks, a walk in the woods, cooking meals together, watching movies together, going to flea markets to find great deals on things they want and need…these togetherness activities are accessible and achievable at almost any income level.
  5. Be innovative with how you procure what you and your children need and want. With forethought quality items can be had for a fraction of the cost of buying them new.  Consider sourcing items at thrift shops, freecycle.com, for sale ads, checking with family and friends if they have items that they don’t need anymore that you are looking for, etc. When you acquire items frugally you’ll be able to stretch resources and possibly build in some splurges!
  6. Educate yourself about money and finances using the plethora of information available on the web, in libraries, and in bookstores. Financial Literacy is a powerful and necessary area of literacy for any individual interested in pursuing greater financial ease and affluence.
  7. Look inside yourself and explore the ideas you inherited around money and finances. Passing on disempowering concepts around money and wealth perpetuates feelings of fear, resentment, and powerlessness.  Children absorb the beliefs of their caregivers.  Feelings of fear, resentment, and powerlessness around money and finances will make the lifestyle of your ex even more seductive and appealing to the kids.

By following these seven steps to balance the impact of the income and resource difference between you and your ex you will meet your new circumstances with greater equanimity, teach your children the power in using resources respectfully and  effectively, and provide them with solid and useful information about earning, saving, spending, and investing.  You children  will be grateful and appreciative towards you for these gifts, none of which money can buy, all of their lives.

Ultimately money does not make people happy or well adjusted.  Empowered financially literate people utilize money and wealth effectively.  You have the option of using the traumatic experience of divorce to grow and help your children grow.  The alternative is to teach your children to be victims and live in fear and bitterness.  Use your current circumstances, whatever they are, as the place you begin to create a life for you and your family that incorporates appreciation, resourcefulness, creativity, self confidence, and love.  After all, how promising does the alternative sound?

For more resources on new thinking and perspectives on money and wealth as well as practices suggestions for adapting to changed circumstances visit our website at JourneyBeyondDivorce.com.

Lisa Brick is a Certified Professional Coach, partner at Journey Beyond Divorce,  Licensed Acupuncturist, mother of two creative adults, life partner of many years, and free agent at large in the world who loves coaching individuals to break the bonds that have been limiting their lives.  Lisa can be reached at lisa@JourneyBeyondDivorce.com or at 973-610-7031.