How Money Matters Can Impact Divorce Part Two Of A Three Part Blog By: Catherine Eaton, Esq., Kristin Wallace, PhD and Megan Wolfe, CPA

PART 2 by Megan Wolfe, CPA - Wolfe Financial Group

Protective Financial Attachment Style - “Money as Security”

The Protective financial style views money as security. A full bank account and a vast retirement portfolio means that life can be stress-free and that all their needs can be met. This style prefers that their savings remain untouched.

Money, from this perspective, represents protection against a rainy day or emergencies. Safety and stability are top priorities for this attachment style.

A tactful Collaborative team should avoid “sticker shock” and should attempt to find solutions that do not involve a lot of risk or financial ambiguity.

Social Money Attachment Style - “Money as Status”

People with a Social attachment style understand money as a status symbol. For them, communicating their identity and in-group/out-group markers is very important. The things money can buy—and can be shown off—mean that they will be viewed by others as being important, successful, or smart.

Money is understood here as a signal for others. It’s important for them to have others recognize their social, financial, or material prowess.

Collaborative Divorce professionals must ensure that their proposals avoid disconnecting their Socially-attached clients with their money. They should be mindful of not downplaying status symbols or “the finer things” as a way of finding compromises.

Using Financial Attachment Styles in Collaborative Divorce

Talking about vacation funds, bank accounts, and retirement plans may only be the presenting issue, and therefore spending time discussing only the surface level—such as a budget or a division of assets—may not get to the deeper pain points behind the conflict. By understanding the clients’ financial attachment styles, this will give more understanding of monetary issues and allow clients to feel more authentically heard and understood.  This will then open up creative solutions to problems that might have seemed insurmountable. If Collaborative professionals begin to understand the “why” behind money—their clients’ attachment styles—they will be able to work through money issues in more effective ways.

Money Matters: A Financial Neutral's Advice on the Four Financial Attachment Styles

Financial experts have a good deal to offer in terms of making sense of the practicalities and logistics of a divorce. The financial professional can keep things grounded in the calculated analysis of the balance sheet. However, while the financial expert has a very practical job, they will be aided by having an understanding of the client’s view of money.

Attachment-Informed Financial Practice

The role of the financial professional is to review the couple’s assets and then summarize the lay of the land in terms of monetary viability, income streams, assets, debts, and more. When the financial professional is able to produce a helpful understanding of all of these pieces, the Collaborative team can develop options for the clients.

During the collaborative meetings, the financial expert’s understanding of each partner's financial attachment style will help them in presenting various options, because they are aware of which would be a better fit emotionally and mentally.

Interactions Between Various Financial Attachment Styles

Understanding the clients’ financial attachment styles will be helpful to the financial professional as they submit options for the spouses to consider.

For example, a client may have the Influential attachment style, where they are driven by having a sense of control in the breaking down of their relationship. For them, the loss of involvement in their spouse’s life gives them a sense of panic. They tend to resist conversations that involve total separation. Therefore, the financial professional could suggest that it is not a good idea for alimony payments to be received in one lump sum, because this could be interpreted as “cutting the ties.” Rather, an alimony option that involves a monthly payment may be more appealing, because this means that there will still be a connection between the former spouses.

For someone with a Social attachment style, their money is a sign of status. It might be very important for them to live in a very comfortable house, because it is crucial for them to be viewed and known as the kind of person who lives a country club lifestyle. If the financial professional understands this motivation behind the house—and not the house in of itself—it can help the Collaborative team work out  options that meet the client’s emotional need for association with a particular way of life. Instead of getting caught up fighting over their former home, perhaps there is a less conflictual (and perhaps less expensive) way to achieve that desire for status. Even though some aspects of the couple’s budget and living arrangements will change following the divorce, knowing about attachment styles will help the financial professional shape options and couch their language in a way that is sensitive to satisfying their clients’ social needs.

Discovering Clients’ Attachment Style

To effectively approach a client’s particular financial attachment style, one must first learn the client’s style. This requires focus and “listening between the lines.” The Collaborative team can look for clues about a client’s relationship to money by what is said, and by what is left unsaid.

Recognizing these kinds of behaviors comes with experience and may only be picked up by  members of the Collaborative team in dialogue with one another. Being on the lookout for these behaviors will help to decipher and decode what the client has presented.

Goals-Focused Collaborative Divorce

Ultimately, the Collaborative Divorce Process is a goals-focused process. Even though monetary goals might be calculated to the decimal point, personal goals are very often not cut-and-dry. Goals are in many cases abstract and personal, and sometimes tied to gut feelings, ambiguous emotions, or inconsistent logic. Therefore, the “best” solution may not always be the most optimal or efficient, from a numbers standpoint.

Considering attachment styles is directly related to achieving goals. When walking through the Collaborative process, and the professionals are not picking up on the financial attachment “language” the partners are speaking, there will be confusion, mistranslation, and unmet needs. If a client mentally shuts down because the solutions presented by the Collaborative team were not tailored to their emotional needs, then that means that the goals are not achieved. A financial professional can tell a client over and over again why a budget will not work or why a certain zip code is unaffordable, but the client may not be swayed because they are not interested in budgets and price tags—they are interested in the leisure, leverage, security, or status that comes with the price tag.

However, if the financial professional is able to appeal to this underlying need, they will have more success in shaping a Collaborative solution for their clients. Working alongside the Collaborative team, they can evaluate if their solutions will be effective in positioning a solution that is a good fit for their client’s financial attachment style.