In our last post we discussed the legal aspects of literally separating the property between spouses during divorce. In this post, we discuss the emotional issues involved, with a particular eye to the children.
Property seems in one sense insignificant to the loss of a marriage and a life partner, but in another sense takes on greater importance because of its seeming permanence over the relationship itself. We can put more emotional significance on property during a divorce, and that can lead to poor decision making financially and practically. The first step a spouse should take in dealing with property is to put a practical value and an emotional value on all items, so that in a final division the spouse can see what net gain or loss practically and emotionally a distribution provides.
Some property’s emotional impact cannot be avoided – a wedding album, anniversary gifts, the marital bed, the child’s first crib. No spouse should have a monopoly on the emotional property; each spouse should have some piece of value from the marriage. Of course, special sensitivity should be given to property given by family or friends – it seems the easiest path to agreement if each spouse takes gifts given by their own family or friends. This may not always work out perfectly because of practical reasons or simple fairness, but even showing the heightened awareness of the emotional contribution helps lead to a better distribution. Sorting through emotional items can be difficult, but also cathartic, allowing the spouses to mourn and move on at the same time.
For spouses with children, the physical separation of property is much more devastating to the children because they associate so much of their young lives with their stuff, from their own bed to a computer to cuddling with a parent in the marital bed. Having to get new stuff may seem like a side benefit of divorce, but it also represents the reality of a family coming apart and a child having to live in two separate households. Spouses should spend time together discussing how they want to handle telling the children about the separation and whether they want the children highly involved in the physical property distribution. Some children may prefer to say which bed they want at which house, with which clothes and which desk and other furnishings. It can be empowering to the children to have this control over the process of family upheaval.
Spouses may not want certain items displayed in their house, from pictures of the other spouse to certain items of property that have negative memories. But before pitching these items or leaving them in the attic, each spouse should think about what the absence of certain items will mean to the children. Clearly, the lack of any pictures will make the children uncomfortable about their own memories and how and when to refer to family times. If spouses are serious about normalizing life for children, they should see that these key memories and attachments do not just stop for kids and respect that by allowing parts of the home to reflect a continuation of a sense of family. Mom and dad may no longer live together, but a child should not feel like one does not exist at the other’s home.
A carefully constructed plan of physical separation that involves the children in shaping their new homes and reassures them that both parents are loved and welcomed in their lives will ease the emotional separation anxieties surrounding divorce.
If you have questions about physical separation of property and divorce, contact us – we can help.