I recently met with a couple having difficulty talking to each other because the wife felt that the husband had not been listening to her when she talked about how she was going to support herself and the children after divorce. He was historically the “breadwinner” and she, a stay-at-home mom with a Liberal Arts degree from an accredited college, but as many people have discovered, going to college and getting a Liberal Arts degree doesn’t really prepare you for today’s job market. So after 10 years of taking care of the home and children, the wife was facing the daunting task of looking for a job.
The husband and wife were having a difficult time trying to agree to the maintenance (alimony) amount. Although dividing the assets wasn’t difficult, figuring out an adequate amount for the maintenance part of the agreement was proving to be a sticking point.
Traditionally the purpose of maintenance is to give support over time to the non-monied spouse allowing them to get back in the work force and be self-supporting. This sometimes involves education but more often, it’s just a sum of money, paid out monthly for a period of time based on factors such as disparity of income, the length of the marriage, the health of the parties and their future earning capacity. After the maintenance period has ended, however, it often feels like you’ve have fallen off a cliff because now you don’t have the extra money coming in every month and your skill set isn’t current for today’s job market making it very difficult to get a good paying job.
I asked the wife to not think about the amount of money for a second and tell me what her hopes and aspirations were for herself after the divorce. If she had a choice, what would she like to do?
She said “I want to be a nurse. I always did.” I asked if she had investigated how long it would take and how much it would cost to complete a nursing program. She replied it would take 3 years and cost about $90,000.
I asked her what she thought it would do for her? Her answer was:
“If I get my nursing degree I can get a good paying job and I won’t need alimony any more. My future would completely change because I could not only be self-supporting but also be on a career path that would actually take me somewhere. I could provide for my children and have what I envision is a good life.”
“Well, that sounds like a plan. Now let’s figure out if we can do this.”
They had tentatively agreed to a maintenance amount over a five year period. When we calculated the amount needed for nursing school paid out over 3 years, the amount turned out to be less than the amount of maintenance that they had tentatively agreed to. Additionally, the husband agreed to pay her a stipend while she was going to nursing school. If she wanted to work part time, that was fine, but at least this would provide her with some supplemental income.
Because this education led to a career when she completed nursing school, the husband didn’t feel as if he was just handing her money because she had been married to him. Everybody in the family benefited from this agreement. The kids now had one parent that felt really good about pursuing a dream she always had, and both parents were moving on with their lives in a positive way.
Divorce mediation encourages couples to communicate and cooperate with each other, setting the stage for good things to happen as they and their family move forward. This cooperation sets a precedent for how their parenting arrangement is going to work in the future. And that is a healthy divorce result.