Working through the agreements that need to be made in an informal way, perhaps through conversations at your kitchen table.
DIY· Autonomy· Informal· Cost Effective
Tony & Rebecca
From across the table, Rebecca’s eyes cut into Tony. He opens his briefcase and reaches for the statements he’s brought so they can talk about their accounts. He hopes they’ll be able to settle things without a fight. He wants Rebecca and the kids to be ok. That is a given. But he also needs to pay his rent and buy some furniture for his new place.
Sitting across from Tony, Rebecca hopes they can settle things without a fight. She is trying to stay open to possibilities, but she wants to keep the house. It’s all she can think about as she watches Tony pull papers out of his briefcase. Then he asks, “Can we start with things we agree on?” A knot forms in her throat. Pushing it down, she nods. There are a lot of values that don’t need discussion; the amount left on the mortgage, the value of Tony’s pension – some numbers are just numbers.
They make a list of all the values of things they’re confident in. If they aren’t sure about something, or they have different ideas of the value, it goes on a list to talk about later. When they’re finished, Rebecca asks, “Can we also talk about the bills? Now that you’re moving out, I need help paying for things around the house. I need to get groceries for the kids and pay the mortgage and everything else.”
Tony nods and asks, “Is that child support or spousal support?”
Before the meeting, Rebecca did some research. There are child support and spousal support calculators online. She says, “Can we start with the child support calculator and see where that takes us?”
“Sounds like a good place to start,” Tony says. But when they look at it, it’s hard to know how to put in Tony’s income – is it gross or net? Annual or monthly? With or without employment expenses included? What about his bonuses?
After struggling with these questions for several minutes, Rebecca says, “How about if we go with base gross salary? It seems the simplest.” She doesn’t want to have to go into debt just to keep food on the table, but they need to find some way to move forward. She hopes the calculator will give them an answer that works for both of them.
Tony says, “Sure.” He’s relieved they can agree on a way to move forward after struggling for a while. But when they put his base gross salary in the calculator, it gives them a range, not a specific number. They need more information, but, at the beginning of the conversation, they committed to just talking about what they could figure out first, right now. “Would that middle number cover things for now?” he asks. If he were honest, even the middle number is more than he wants to pay. But he knows Rebecca will be more stressed about money right now.
Rebecca’s heart starts to beat faster. “But that would barely cover the kids’ activities,” she says, raising her voice without realizing it. “That’s just the cost of hockey.” If he’s going to be this cheap about everything maybe just talking it out won’t work.
“You know I don’t want to screw you over, right?” Tony says.
Rebecca is stunned for a moment. Can Tony still read her mind like that? She hasn’t really thought of him trying to screw her over, but now that he’s said it, she realizes that is what she’s afraid of, and she can’t let that fear get in the way of their attempt to work things out without fighting. “Okay,” she says, and with that, they manage to agree on how to pay their immediate expenses and on the value of most of their property. They would still need to talk about parenting and long-term plans and finalize their support and property. But they had a good start.