Fighting Over "Stuff"

When it comes to dividing up property during a separation and divorce, sometimes rationality can take a big giant flying leap out the window. Some couples will spend thousands of dollars on attorney fees fighting over tiny items that they could go out and replace for far less. Often it's sentimental items (Grandma's silver, Uncle Ned's pocket-watch), but more often than not it's something you can go online and order a replacement of that could arrive next week. We know of one case where the litigants spent a collective $3500+ fighting over a George Foreman Grill!

How does this level of insanity happen? Well, because it's about the stuff…. but it's also totally not about “the stuff.” It's about hurt feelings. It's about feeling like your almost-ex is getting more than his fair share, or that she's laying claim to the thing just to get your goat. If it were anybody else in the world, you'd probably gladly hand over that vase, but the thought of your spouse getting it makes your blood boil.

For some people, the solution is entering into some kind of monk-like trance in which you can dissociate from desires for any worldly belongings. Not saying anything against that – if you are of an inclination to go that route, there probably is huge merit to it.

For most people who are in the throes of the stresses of divorce, that level of nirvana may have to wait a while. For the non-monks out there facing these kinds of issues, here are a few hacks that may help get you through.

It doesn't really matter if it's items you think you should have because they are somehow more “yours” or if it's items your almost-ex thinks s/he should have that you don't want to give up, the principles are pretty much the same.

1. Deflate the impetus

First, ask yourself this: Does s/he actually use or want the thing, or is s/he just after it out of spite?  If your almost-ex is just trying to take the Thing to get your goat or because s/he knows it will get you riled up, this may be one of the easier dynamics to deal with (if you can react the right way). In essence, if s/he realizes that you don't care about the thing, s/he is likely to lose interest. Like a Labrador who violently tugs at the end of a rope when you're holding the other end but then drops it the moment you do, it is likely that the struggle – the tug-of-war – that your almost-ex is after rather than the Thing itself.

2. Take the high road

What if rather than this tone:

“WTF? I was the one who bought that toothbrush holder. I got it on sale, and specifically bought it because I knew it'd go with this bathroom. In this house, which I am totally getting, by the way, because you are a total cheating loser.”

You were take this tone:

“Really? You're going to fight me over the toothbrush holder? Knock yourself out, buddy. It's all yours.”

Even if you are feeling angry and maybe even a bit vindictive toward your ex, rising above his/her pettiness you not only permit yourself to retain more of your own integrity, but you also are likely to avoid litigation and fighting that not only may not get you the thing you're after in the first place but may end up costing you way more in terms of money, time, and stress that could better be spent elsewhere. By not lowering yourself to his/her level of squabbling about these things, you also are likely to frame yourself in a better light if you do need to be in court. To oversimplify, s/he looks like the crazy one, not you.

And don't forget, that life continues long after the divorce is final. The #1 person you have to live with, long-term, is you.  Clients often relate to us that they don't like the person they were when they came to us, prior to or during their divorce.  It is unsettling to have to live with decisions made by a version of yourself you don't like.  Rise above!

3. Focus on long term value

If he's throwing a temper tantrum about wanting the car and the boat and the TV and whatever other toys you jointly own, consider whether you could be okay with that so long as you get the bank account that has more money in it than those things are worth AND you don't even have to maintain all the stuff going forward.

Remember in life, we have assets and liabilities.  Except they're not what most people think they are.  Assets add to the enjoyment of our lives, and add to our long-term financial health and well-being.  Houses are sometimes assets. Retirement plans are assets. A good, loyal mutt can be an asset.

Most “stuff” that we own are liabilities. Our car loses value every day AND requires maintenance and gasoline, and other time and money. The same for boats, big screen televisions and other toys. They may also provide value … but in the long run, the cost usually exceeds the value. Even the house that is too big for your circumstances can become more a liability than an asset.

Focus on true assets, and you will usually get what will best serve you … even if it is not what you want right now.

4. Don't get taken advantage of

Just because you're committing to taking the high road and acting like the grownup here, that does not mean you should give up everything and be taken advantage of. Sometimes it's very true that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease. If your almost-ex is acting like a toddler convulsing on the floor of the candy aisle, that should not mean that you give up and he gets his way on all counts. There is a big happy medium fighting fire with fire and being a doormat.

Finding that medium can be challenging, especially when your soon-to-be-ex is not looking for it. This is where, no matter how awesome or rational you are about these things, having an external support system or objective third party involved can make all the difference. When you're in the middle of the fight, it is hard to formulate and keep to a strategic plan. Especially when this is your first such battle. It is a huge benefit to have a team on your side that a) prepares you, and works with you to be clear on what is truly important in your life, b) has your back, and c) has been there, done that, and has a track record of getting good results for clients who take them forward into a more fulfilling life.