In addition to the assets that they have accumulated during their marriage, some divorcing couples have significant family wealth in the picture. This family wealth can take a number of different forms.
One of the parties may have received an inheritance either prior to or during the marriage. This inherited wealth is a part of the total financial picture of the couple but is not divisible by a divorce court unless it has been co-mingled with marital assets. This basic principle applies whether you are getting divorced in Virginia, the District of Columbia or Maryland.
Or perhaps one or both of the parties have wealthy extended family members who are waiting in the wings, willing to support their son or daughter and their grandchildren by paying for such expenses as attorneys’ fees, private school tuition, or vacations.
A third scenario involves the expectation of future inheritances. That is, a party has not yet received an inheritance but it seems clear that an inheritance will be received in the future, most likely upon the death of a relative.
So if you are the party without a wealthy extended family, what are some things you may want to be thinking about or doing as your divorce proceeds? My advice can be summarized in four points:
- Be sure you know the law, and how it applies to your unique situation. For example, are previous amounts of money received from your in-laws gifts or loans? Has care been taken to avoid mixing marital and non-marital funds? What is the relevance of a series of regular gifts to calculating a party’s income for purposes of support? Consult with an experienced divorce attorney and make sure all of your questions are answered.
- Preserve relationships. Perhaps most importantly, support your in-laws’ relationship with your children even if you are angry about your spouse’s behavior. They are a part of the loving circle that surrounds your children, and in almost all circumstances, your children will benefit from having all of their grandparents in their lives. You yourself can also continue to have an amicable relationship with your in-laws even if you are divorcing their son or daughter. Your independent relationship with the grandparents of your children can be a positive both in their lives and in yours.
- Plan your financial future based on your ability to stand on your own two feet. Developing your own career assets is better for you financially and in terms of your own self esteem as opposed to being overly-dependent on family resources.
- An exception can be carved out for grandchildren’s needs. Extended family members may be willing to contribute to specific needs for the children such as educational expenses, summer camps, and extra-curricular activities if the case is made that two households are more expensive to maintain than one, and outside help could significantly enhance the children’s lives.
In summary, strive to be appreciative of the extra benefit which family wealth can bring to a divorcing couple without being reliant on it.