Cultural issues in divorce and how to overcome them.

When you first fell in love with your spouse, you might have been able to ignore or overlook cultural differences that separated the two of you. Over time, however, those cultural differences may have taken their toll on your marriage.

Cultural differences are an issue that comes up a lot and that sometimes does impede settlement and resolution of cases. Our country is a melting pot of cultures, races & backgrounds; most importantly culture extends beyond race and ethnicity to other things like religion, views on sexuality, sexual orientation, perceptions and expectations regarding marriage and family. The following are some cultural issues that are common in divorce and some tips on how to overcome them:

1. Individualistic cultures vs Collectivist cultures

There’s a seminal study by researchers at the University of Nevada, where they looked at 22 different countries and divided them into individualistic and activist cultures. And the individualist cultures are focusing more on self-discovery, self-identity, self-worth and personal fulfillment. And the study found that those individualist cultures have a higher divorce rate, have a more favorable view of divorce as a means for self-fulfillment and getting themselves to the next stage in life.

In contrast, the collectivist culture is (very commonly we think of collectivist cultures as in East Asian cultures, Chinese, Indian.) a very family-oriented culture. They value the family unit; they believe in self-sacrifice for the greater good of the family and community. And there’s lot of stigmas associated with divorce, and there are a lot of social prohibitions against divorce within those cultures that passed down from generation to generation that have impacted the people who have then moved to this country.

Even if they’re first generation or second generation, they still impact the way that they view divorce overall and how they view generally the divorce process as well. So, keep in mind what kind of culture your spouse comes from and try to respect the differences to keep the divorce as amicable as possible.

2. Different ideas of how to make/spend money.

When it comes to assets, different cultures have different ways to make decisions on how they will manage their finances during a marriage, which brings a very peculiar obstacle in divorce because these communities usually have their assets completely intertwined not just between the couple but with their family members.

There are two components of each divorce. The financial side and the custody side. So, on the financial side, always inform your attorney if you or your spouse get money from your family abroad and if you send money to your family abroad. As well as any assets co-owned with your family members because it’s important for your attorney to understand the dynamic.

In New Jersey, the law is very clear and states that income is income from all sources. So, if you get a thousand dollars a month from your family abroad, that’s considered part of your income for purposes of calculating child support or alimony. So, make sure from the get-go that your attorney understands that.

3. Custody and Special holidays

Regarding parenting time, keep in mind to bring up if you celebrate any specific cultural holidays. And that goes for any religion the same. Keep in mind and bring into the conversation if you have any specific family traditions that you want to spend with your children.

International travel is also a very big issue so, make sure you include in your agreement if you want to go back to your country of origin for any special occasion. For example, going back to China or Taiwan for a Chinese New Year.

Religion wise, you want to make sure that you have the kids for a certain hour of the day for religious purposes? Those are not commonly discussed in a same culture divorce so keep in mind to bring those requests to the table when working on your agreement.

4. Sending money to your family abroad.

If you or your spouse are sending money abroad to support family members you need to be preventive and get a promissory note from the get-go. You will need a promissory note, in order to substantiate if the money you are sending is a loan or that there’s money to be paid back.

It can’t just be an abstract idea of “my parents paid for my college or my graduate school expenses. So now I’m paying them back in some amount that I think is fair or reasonable based on how much they supported me in the past.” So, from a cultural perspective, that’s a conversation you must have with your attorney to explain that dynamic and that’s why you are sending back money to your family.

In conclusion divorcing spouses can greatly benefit from trying to see the big picture from each other’s cultural perspective. The chances of an amicable and successful divorce agreement improve with this sort of cultural empathy. Furthermore, negotiation and compromise become more achievable in the context of divorce when the parties and their attorneys can see issues from opposing viewpoints.

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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