Money is by far the most common point of conflict between separating couples. It is important to realize that money in of itself is often not the primary issue; rather, what money symbolizes for people, what it represents, and how it provides identity are the real underlying points of contention.
Just like in psychology, it can be understood that there are also financial attachment styles. Understanding financial attachment styles is key for professionals working with clients in the Collaborative Divorce process. Money is by far the most common point of conflict between separating couples. It is important, then, to realize that money in of itself is often not the primary issue; rather, what money symbolizes for people, what it represents, and how it provides identity are the real underlying points of contention.
PART 3 by Catherine Eaton, Esq.
Money Matters: An Attorney’s Perspective on the Four Financial Attachment Styles
What do conflicts about child support, alimony, or the equitable distribution of attorney fees all have in common? They all have to do with money. Money is almost always the number one issue in a divorce. The bottom line and budgets are almost always the most stressful aspects of moving forward in a new stage of life and relationships.
An attorney’s priority, from the very first consultation meeting, should be to understand the client’s relationship to money and to discern their attachment style. As one makes case notes on the client’s story and situation, they should also be observing and writing down the client’s choice of words, emphasis, and tone when it comes to monetary issues.
This way, the attorney can start building a mental model of the client’s motivations, pain points, and hopes so that they can develop a working theory of their attachment style. With that hypothesis of a psychological profile, they can start to formulate an outline of what their client is seeking, what their client’s under-the-surface desires are, what their end goals might be, and then how to develop a trajectory of getting from the starting point (the consultation) to an amicable solution (the settlement or agreement). When the attorney is asking questions or facilitating a back-and-forth dialogue, they can feel confident that they’re assuring their client, speaking their language, and prioritizing their goals.
All Collaborative Divorce professionals—lawyers, financial experts, and mental health professionals—must be careful not to privilege their own perspective or biases. Remember that each team member will have their own financial style as well. Therefore, they should watch out for a kind of “therapeutic transference,” where they attempt to sway a client towards their own opinions based on their own personal motivations.
There are three aspects for effective conversations that are unaffected by personal bias. First, the professionals should develop an inner financial self-awareness, recognizing their own frameworks and attachment styles for thinking about money. Second, they must develop an understanding of each partner’s style individually. Finally, they should examine what happens when each person’s style interacts with the others.
Letting one’s own attachment style cloud their suggestions and proposals will only hinder the Collaborative process, and cause the clients to feel as though their needs are not being heard. For example, a financial professional with a Protective attachment style might feel nervous about a client’s decisions motivated by a Recreative financial attachment style, but the professional should not let their own budgetary preferences dictate the client’s decision-making process.
Personal bias can be kept in check by each member of the Collaborative Divorce team engaging in regular consultation with the other members. This provides something of an accountability system. For example, if one member believes that another professional who has an Influential attachment style is overemphasizing the leveraging power of money, they can each work together to balance all the styles (especially if the clients do not respond well to appeals of the Influential attachment style).
Having both self-awareness and team-awareness means that it is less likely for clients to be shut down by their Collaborative Team’s personal preferences, because the team is more conscious of and can more easily identify their own favoritisms. Therefore, the Collaborative Team who is mindful of these attachment styles will be more effective, having better judgment on keeping the client’s goals front and center.
In the collaborative pre-meeting, there should be conversations with the Collaborative Divorce team members about how they think the spouses identify in terms of their financial attachment styles. It provides them a time to understand and discuss the ground rules, the triggers that each style tends to have, and a set of language to mindfully use. Then, each team member can contribute their expertise—legal, financial, and psychological—through this lens of attachment styles.
Using the therapeutic approach from the mental health expert alongside the concrete numbers from the financial professional, the attorneys can set realistic expectations for the clients. Grounded in the helpful perspective of each member and through targeting the specific pain points and goals of financial attachment styles, lawyers are able to be specific in what is possible and what should take priority in terms of being resolved. Using all of these skills together, this will help the team help the client come to the finish line and reach a successful agreement.
TO LEARN MORE
To learn more join us at the 2022 Florida Academy of Collaborative Professional (FACP) where we will presenting: Money Matters – A Team Approach to Understanding the Emotional and Practical Needs of Clients Facing Complex Financial Issues in the Collaborative Process.
This workshop will explore how "Money Matters" differently to each client, and how it influences their decision-making process. We will explain how four categories help describe a client's relationship to "Money," and, we will demonstrate how the roles of the Lawyer, Mental Health and Financial Neutral can support the client emotionally and help set reasonable expectations by understanding the category a client identifies with. Attend this workshop to learn how the professional team can explore complex financial issues with the clients when "Money Matters".
Catherine Eaton, Esq., The Eaton Family Law Firm, P.A.
Jacqueline Green, Esq., The Green Law Firm of Jacksonville, P.L.
Kristin Wallace, PhD, LMHC-QCS, Counselors for Change
Megan Wolfe, CPA, Wolfe Financial Group