I was at a business event the other night and was approach by a man of around 40 years asking what I did in my business. I mentioned that I was a forensic accountant working in family law and that I searched for hidden assets in marriages. “Great”, he said, “…can you tell me ways of how it’s done”. He made out it was a joke by laughing, but from the tight uncomfortable smile on his face I knew he wasn’t joking.

What is fair?

I continued on by saying that I was about fairer settlements in divorces and that putting children and their needs first was important. Suddenly, I noticed a distinct change in temperature from sunny Caribbean to glacial Arctic. With that said, he then countered with, it’s not really “fair” though when someone who hasn’t worked for the money gets a significant amount of it. Ignoring the permafrost beginning to form over the conversation, I mentioned that needs and contribution levels were taken into account in determining family law property settlements. I also asked him to bear in mind that some women put aside their lives, their careers, perhaps their dreams to have a man’s children. The fact that a man can have a family as well as a career is because a women gives up hers. I went on to say that a breadwinner may not appreciate the contribution and sacrifice made by the stay at home party and that is why they may form the view of an undeserved distribution of family assets in a property settlement.

He countered by mentioning that some women deny men access to children and I agreed that this was an unfortunate scenario. I asked him though to appreciate from where this turn of events may stem; likely from a place of anger, frustration and fear, perhaps over there being insufficient funds to raise children in an environment they deserve. I added, that to place a woman in this position means children are being raised by an angry parent and no child deserves that – not ever! They should be raised in a loving, caring and happy home, not one shrouded in rage and desperation.

On this final point, my audience gave me an even tighter smile and said “It was lovely meeting you” and departed. Gosh, never was a more untrue comment made! Never mind…

Is it just about the money?

But this got me thinking…wow is it all about money for some people? Is money really more important than providing for children and an ex spouse who perhaps gave up other opportunities to stay at home and care for children in those important formative years? It enforces the mind-blowing reality that raising children is still not seen, by some, as a valid contribution to a marriage.

Yet I’m sure if you asked those who had had a career whether than would go back in time and trade places to become the stay at home spouse, I bet it would be a resounding “No!” Why? Well firstly because the stay at home spouse doesn’t have the freedom of the spouse who goes to work. Their day is scheduled around the needs of the children. They don’t have a 9am to 5pm job; it’s a 24-hour tour of duty. They don’t get to have a laugh at work with colleagues; they get to deal with the temper tantrums of frustrated children. They miss the social interaction and intellectual stimulation during the day that they would have had with other adults in a workplace environment. They may also lose their place in the pecking order if they take maternity leave from a professional role in a corporate environment.

The reality

Mothers who take time out to have children are often penalised for this change in their priorities. They may lose the position they had and be assigned to a less prestigious one upon their return to work. They may lose the “partnership” promotion they were promised. They may feel less included in the decision-making management team due to the perceived possibility they may leave to have another child and perhaps not return back to work at all. They lose the ability to build on their superannuation, earn an income and the chance to capitalise on their career opportunities. These are some of the issues that the “at work spouse” does not have to grapple with. They are not confronted with mourning the loss of any potential they may have wished to explore.

My audience had a really dark view of the other party he divorced. I say this because no-one has a mindset like that unless they have some anger towards an outcome that they feel denied them justice. If you are in a marriage, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page about physical and emotional contributions to your marriage. There needs to be an understanding of importance of both roles, and that neither one contributes more. Rather, they are like two jigsaw puzzle pieces which come together to form one piece. One cannot exist effectively without the other’s contribution.

As for my audience, my thoughts were along these lines…“This guy is still young enough to have another family…what does this mean for the next woman he meets?”  The saying “A leopard doesn’t change its spots” comes to mind and I encourage all people coupling up with another to look at their past behaviour in a relationship, because it may well become your reality in the future.

Elizabeth Camillo is the principal of her own firm specialising in forensic accounting in family law. Her role in a divorce is to search for any hidden money or stashed assets purchased with family money, to review the performance and value a family business, and other indications of financial deceit in a marriage.
Prior to commencing her own practice, Elizabeth investigated the management of client monies by lawyers in the state of Victoria. She is a member of CPA Australia, has a Masters in Professional Accounting and is an accredited trainer. Elizabeth is a regular presenter and trainer at Leo Cussen Centre for Law and the Real Estate Institute of Victoria.
She is the author of the soon to be published book, “Where’s the Money, Honey?: Finding the Hidden Assets in your Divorce”.