By Dan Serra
The distress of divorce spreads beyond couples when children are involved. Financial scars accompany emotional scars, and the parents' reaction can either heal or spread those scars to children.
In a new book, “We Need to Talk: Money & Kids After Divorce,” financial planner and divorce financial analyst Linda Leitz shares valuable advice for parents dealing with divorce.
Leitz, of Colorado Springs, Colo., focuses on how single parents can teach their kids financial responsibility when the other parent leaves the household. It's a book not just about managing money, but coping with the emotions involved. Leitz explains five stages of grief that spread to money management in hopes parents will recognize them and learn to deal with them:
1. Denial: When a parent refuses to accept a change and make adjustments in financial habits. The danger in this is continued spending at previous income levels.
2. Anger: This breeds financial revenge, which is very harmful to children, Leitz writes. A spouse may run up a credit card or blame the other for a financial mess.
3. Bargaining: When one spouse offers a generous financial settlement it's often unfair to the other spouse and comes at the expense of payoffs in the future, such as for retirement. The enticement can jeopardize the other spouse's future well-being.
4. Depression: The downward spiral flows into money when a spouse is unable to pay attention to bills or spends less on a child's needs.
5. Acceptance: Finally, a parent enters the acceptance stage where he or she starts taking control and managing money better. This stage doesn't come naturally to everyone as some may never move on and face financial destruction.
Helping parents help their children get through a divorce is also one of Leitz's missions in writing the book.
“I don't think parents realize sometimes that they are putting their kids in the middle, and it's absolute torture for the kids emotionally,” Leitz said. “If parents realize that they need to make sure that the kids feel included in what goes on in each parent's life and not be made to choose a favorite parent, it's better for everyone.”
Children can help, she said, by making their own choices if the income is less following a divorce. For example, deciding between soccer or ballet.
“They can know that changes are happening without having to know every detail of conflict between the parents,” Leitz said. “They can feel included in financial issues and know that they have a voice, without putting a sense of financial burden on them.”
Parents should make sure their kids understand that the divorce and financial adjustments are not their fault, she said. And the kids should be taught to provide support to both parents, be unselfish and willing to make sacrifices to help each parent.
“Kids want their parents to be OK,” Leitz said. “Parents that are financially destitute because they ‘spared no expense' on their kids have now put a huge financial and emotional burden on the children. It's much more healthy to cut back financially and have kids realize that they can be fine – loved, happy, educated and living productive lives – without spending lots of money.”