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The Biggest Concerns When You Divorce Without Children

It's money: spousal support, division of assets, and separate property issues.

Key points

  • If a divorcing couple doesn't have children, they aren’t bound together by the need to raise them. The relationship can permanently end.
  • When there are no children in the picture, the hardest conversations in a divorce often involve finances.
  • The negotiations raised in a divorce typically involve three issues: separate property issues, spousal support, and division of assets.

James and Jackie (not their real names) have been married for 14 years. Jackie has had three miscarriages, and now that she is in her 40s, they realize that they aren’t going to have children. Both have successful careers and they have a busy social life. Jackie tells me that James is her best friend.

However, James has fallen in love with a co-worker, who is younger than Jackie, and James realizes he doesn’t want to give up his dream of building a family. He spends a few months in therapy and decides to divorce.

Jackie has an identity crisis as she grieves the loss of her closest friend and partner, asking “Who am I if not part of this couple?” Deeply hurt by James’ betrayal, she says “I’m a failure because I couldn’t have a baby.”

James struggles with guilt and shame. He knows that he’s abandoning Jackie to try to meet his own desires, but he can’t give up the pull to this new relationship and opportunity. He hopes that he and Jackie will remain friends.

The end of any relationship causes emotional upheaval whether you have children or not.

The road to the breakup is often fraught with anger, disappointment, grief, fear, betrayal, and more. Whether the relationship has been long or short, the breakup is a life crisis.

One can’t avoid the pain and loss in a divorce. However, if you don’t have children when you split you aren’t bound together by the need to raise children. You may simply go your separate ways and never see each other again.

Jackie tells James, “It’s going to take me a long time, maybe never, to be able to be friends with you after this.” She agrees to a Collaborative Divorce to minimize the painful acrimony, and James feels hopeful that they’ll be able to be friends one day.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels
Resolving the financial issues is one of the most important chores in divorce, even during the depths of emotion.
Source: Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Once a legal process has started, divorce professionals usually see the spouses’ financial concerns. It's usually all about the money: spousal support, division of assets, and often separate property issues. The heaviest burden in divorce is emotional, but the legal process is designed to untie the legal contract of marriage. When there are no children, it comes down to difficult conversations about finances.

While Jackie and James are struggling with their emotions, collecting the financial information they need to settle their divorce seems like an overwhelming chore. They are required to fully disclose all income, expenses, assets, debts, property, budgets, and more. Leslie, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst is a neutral participant in their Collaborative Divorce. She helps them gather the information and prepares the legally-required disclosure documents.

Jackie and James sit with their divorce coaches and attorneys to negotiate the financial settlement. The coaches have helped prepare them for the negotiation with some strategies to listen, express their ideas, manage their emotions, and search for solutions that meet most of what matters to each of them. These necessary conversations are overlaid with intense emotions that can cloud one’s thinking and ability to make decisions. Divorce coaches are trained to guide, help and support clients through the emotional turmoil of the divorce process.

Each relationship and marriage is different, but when there are no children, financial concerns take center stage. The negotiations raised in the divorce are almost always about these three issues: Separate Property Issues, Spousal Support, and Division of Assets.

Separate Property Issues: Once the financial information has been gathered and presented in clear spreadsheets, James and Jackie identify any separate property either may have had before their marriage. James had inherited his parents’ home, and Jackie agreed that while it belongs to James, she wants compensation for the money they have spent on upgrades and a major remodel. James agrees to take over the mortgage from the refinancing.

In other situations, clients will consider assets acquired before marriage, retirement accounts funded before marriage, earnings after the decision to separate, gifts and inheritances which may be considered separate property. (This may vary in your jurisdiction.)

Division of Assets: The property statement prepared by Leslie lists bank and brokerage accounts, cars, a timeshare in Hawaii, life insurance, airline miles and more, as well as some of their personal property. They also have credit card debt and loans on their automobiles. With the help of their coaches and lawyers, they were able to reach an agreement and an equitable resolution of their “marital estate.” Jackie says, “I still don’t think it’s fair that James can jump ship for a younger woman, but financially the agreement is acceptable, I guess.”

While nearly all states have no-fault divorce, assets may be divided unequally, by agreement, for various reasons.

Spousal Support: Jackie’s income is somewhat higher than James's but both earn enough to meet their budgets. Their situation is unusual in that neither will need to pay spousal support (alimony) despite the length of their marriage.

If they were not comfortably middle class, the law might have required Jackie to pay alimony to James. This would certainly have been a huge emotional trigger for her. Even if legally entitled to support, James may have deferred because of the guilt he carries about leaving Jackie. Because they are in a Collaborative Divorce process, the law is just one factor James and Jackie consider. The lawyers advise their clients about the laws in their jurisdiction so that they can make informed decisions, whether they consider the law as a guide or, as many do, think “outside the box” of the law.

In California, there are 14 different factors to consider when negotiating spousal support. After discussion with their coaches, James recognizes that he doesn’t want to add insult to injury by taking alimony from Jackie since he doesn’t need the financial support. At the same time, Jackie acknowledges that while a judge might have ordered support, she is grateful that James is comfortable with his decision to decline.

Divorcing when you don’t have children eliminates one very challenging aspect of divorce and allows you to completely separate from your spouse. You may never cross paths again. Some exes remain friends after divorce if both want to do this.

The pain of divorce can be overwhelming and it can take a year or two to fully heal. The biggest legal concerns are the financial issues, which most people have to resolve while suffering in the depths of emotion. It is important to get the emotional support you need so that you can manage the financial information gathering, negotiations, and decision-making.

Copyright Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2022

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