Divorce: it’s a subject nobody feels comfortable talking about. Divorce is the true “D” word in the English language. And yet divorce is something that may affect 50% or more of every American that enters into marriage. Nobody wants to believe they might end up on the wrong side of that equation, but what if you did? This post is not to give legal or financial planning advice, but rather to start a dialogue about how many of the practices of a healthy marriage might actually be detrimental were the marriage to end in a divorce. This post certainly isn’t meant to give love advice either, nor financial advice. Again, this post just wishes to raise some issues, even if the subject is taboo. After all, divorces are one of the biggest causes of bankruptcy filings in the United States.
Here are some potential ways being trusting in a marriage could hurt you in divorce:
- Marrying Someone of Lesser Means Without a Prenuptial Agreement – A divorce lawyer friend of mine once told me that in most jurisdictions a prenuptial agreement can only dispose of assets acquired prior to the marriage. So, if you are someone of means, and you are marrying below those means, a prenuptial agreement could protect your interests. Yet many people find the whole idea of prenuptial agreements unsavory, and think that having a prenuptial agreement will only doom a marriage from the start. There may be some truth to that sort of thinking, but by foregoing a prenuptial agreement a person of means may find themselves with a lot of exposure in the future.
- Commingling Inherited, Gifted, Premarital, or Other “Exempt” Monies – In many jurisdictions, there are apparently certain monies that are exempt from being considered “marital assets” should the marriage ever dissolve. These exempted monies might include inherited or premarital monies or assets. Most married couples do not want to consider the possibility of divorce, and therefore commingle these types of funds or assets. And yet in many jurisdictions, once the funds are commingled they are no longer considered exempt.
- Paying Off Another Spouse’s Pre-Marital Personal Debts – Likewise, most premarital debts would likely be considered non-marital debt. This means that in a divorce, those debts would likely remain the sole liability of the indebted party. If you commingle the debts then they might become joint marital debts. Moreover, most of us help pay off our spouse’s student loan bills or other pre-marital debts without even thinking about it– even though these debts are not our responsibility. You may or may not receive a credit for these payments should the marriage ever dissolve.
- Taking Care of Children That Are Not Ours – I know this might be really touchy, but if we are going to have this conversation it must also be noted that in many states, if you start taking care of another person’s child as if he or she were your own child, that might create a support obligation towards that child until they are emancipated–even if you are not the natural or adoptive parent.
- Wills – Sometimes people know a marriage is not going well or even separate, yet do not change their wills. In some instances, this may mean the monies will still pass to their spouse, even if that spouse would, given the circumstances, prefer for the monies to be left to someone else.
- Allow One Spouse to Earn Less Money, Be a Stay-At-Home Parent, Etc. – Apparently many states base alimony upon both parties’ salaries. Given that fact, in a marriage you should want your spouse to earn more than you do, should you ever divorce. If your spouse could earn a high salary but you are the breadwinner–and that spouse instead stays home to keep the house or raise the children (or earn less than they could by working part-time), then you might be on the hook one day for a huge alimony obligation. Likewise, you are likely setting yourself up for not being granted physical custody of the children in the event of a divorce or separation.
This is not the happiest subject to consider. Yet it’s interesting to think of some of the many ways a healthy marriage may not be conducive to a lucrative divorce. In the event of a divorce, many examples of a healthy marriage such as sharing responsibilities and finances may actually be harmful. For many people, however, being trusting may prevent a divorce from occurring in the first place. Nobody wants to live a marriage preparing for a possible divorce. Even my divorce friend lawyer says he breaks most “divorce planning” rules. Again, I am not an expert in law, finances, or even marriage. Seek the appropriate financial experts as this post is simply meant to start a dialogue.