Divorce, Trust, Money, and COVID-19

Coronavirus will fan the flames between co parents in the ongoing struggle over shared expenses and support

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Divorce and trust aren’t two words that are typically paired together. This is no surprise, as couples in divorce spend tons of time and money in a zero-sum fight to determine when they see their children, how to divide their assets, and manage shared expenses going forward.  It’s not a process that brings out the best in people. On the contrary, it breeds mistrust. The problem is that trust makes transacting with others easier. When there’s no trust every exchange is questioned. “If I pay for these art classes now, will I ever be reimbursed?” Another example relating to child custody would be, “If I give up this Saturday on my weekend, will she ever respect my parenting time.” The primary concern isn’t paying for the class or even giving up the weekend day. The real concern is if I make the payment or give-in, do I trust that my co-parent will not abuse my goodwill. When trust doesn’t exist, a parent may feel justified in the denial of a legitimate request. This leads to a vicious cycle of greater resentment, deeper distrust, and increased parental rigidity.

              Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on our lives. As I write this, I heard a statistic on CNN that 1 in 7 in the US know someone that has passed from the disease. The impact on co-parenting arrangements and the splitting of both time and expenses is immeasurable, but for the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on money matters. Not only will people who owe back child support not receive Covid-19 stimulus checks, but they are also losing their jobs, experiencing furloughs and taking pay cuts. The NCSL believes that there will be a deluge of child support modifications and as a result of the stay-at-home orders there are states and counties that are ill-equipped to hear these cases. Child support is one problem, shared expenses are another especially in families with many add-on expenses such as split custody arrangements, kids in college, and children with special needs to name a few. Many parents will fall short on their financial obligations. Co-parents will need to take up the financial slack for each other and if they suffer from low trust relationships, it is fair to think this will generate tremendous strain between them. Here and now is when trust matters most, and many divorced parents aren’t set up for success.

              What are co-parents to do? Magically finding more money or more trust during this crisis isn’t likely, but what if parents could remove or limit the role of trust in transacting with each other? This is possible through a commitment device, which might make it unattractive to make short-term, impulsive, one-sided decisions. For example, if you and your ex committed to having a 3rd party record all financial transactions between you, maybe any temptation to weaponize shared parenting expenses or child support will be neutralized. This is the role of parenting apps such as DComply, which facilitates mobile payments of child support & shared parenting expenses. Or if your parenting challenge is managing custody and visitation, you could consider apps like FAYR that use geo-location to document pick-ups and drop-offs. In times like this pandemic when support payments and reimbursements are likely going to be late, would you rather be the parent that needs to “trust” that your ex will eventually make good financially or the parent that has a “commitment device” and a process for making sure that you’re treating each other fairly? 

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