17 Things Divorce Experts Wish You Knew Before You Got Married
January 9, 2020
Obviously, nobody wants to think about divorce when they’re getting married. The good news is: The divorce rate is going down, and there’s a good shot your marriage will make it. But, the reality is, there are never any guarantees in life — and, as with all things, it never hurts to be prepared.
Divorce lawyers, mediators, and financial planners get a front-row seat to all sorts of situations — from easy-to-navigate, amicable separations to crazy contentious splits. So it’s safe to assume they’ve learned a few things that can help couples, no matter what stage of the relationship they’re in. And, truth be told, they have some advice that everyone should hear before they tie the knot that might save a lot of strife in the long run.
From relationship red-flags to common points of contention between couples, here’s what divorce experts wish everyone knew before they entered into a contract of marriage. Bottom line: Know who you’re marrying, get on the same page about your goals for the future, and make a few smart financial moves so you’re covered in the event that things go bad. (And maybe prenup just in case?) If you’ve truly found “the one,” your relationship is definitely strong enough to withstand these truths.
You can’t change your spouse.
Are you ready to spend your entire life with all those tics that drive you crazy? Good, because they aren’t going away. “Whether they’re major personality flaws or annoying little habits, it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll be able to change these traits in your spouse,” says Janet Battey, founding partner of Ferro & Battey in Darien, Connecticut. “Expecting otherwise will only set your relationship up for failure.”
The relatives aren’t going to become more likeable.
If you think your future in-laws are just giving you a hard time and they’ll lay off once you’ve made it official, know it doesn’t always work out that way. “If you find yourself in conflict with your mother-in-law or hate the older brother, then this is not likely to change — in fact, it may get worse,” says Leigh Daniel of Leigh Daniel and Associates in Huntsville, Alabama. “Before you get married, you need to find peace with the way your spouse relates to his or her family. Going into it thinking it’ll change is a fallacy that often leads to challenges that aren’t easy to overcome.”
You need to be on the same page about kids.
Not just whether or not to have kids and how many to have, but how you want to raise them. “I wish people did more due diligence when it comes to their future spouse’s family before they get married, since this is where the person’s operating system gets installed,” says Michael Stutman, a founding partner of Stutman Stutman Lichtenstein & Felder, LLP in New York City. “Are they harsh disciplinarians? Are they laissez-faire parents? Are there mental health issues lurking around? Drug use? Alcoholism? There are so many things that passed on from generation to generation that are not financial.”
Keep in mind that marriage is a legal contract.
“Marriage is more than a change in relationship status — it’s a legal contract that changes the financial and legal interests of each spouse literally overnight,” says Lynn Myrick, a “divorce concierge” at Sodoma Law in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Most people wouldn’t enter into a contract has a significant impact on their day-to-day lives without fully understanding what they’re signing, but many people still tie the knot without fully realizing the legal impact. For example, in North Carolina, when you buy property after the date of the wedding using the money you’ve saved before you got married, it’s assumed by the law that you and your spouse are purchasing the property together.” Before you get married, you should know the laws in your state surrounding marriage and divorce.
You should consider a prenup even if you’re not a celebrity.
It could save you a lot of pain in the end. “I tell clients who are about to get married that if they don’t enter into a prenuptial agreement then they should have their head examined,” says Adam Edelstein Lawyer & Partner at The Edelsteins, Faegenburg & Brown in New York City. “Perhaps the most hotly contested issue in any divorce is the issue of spousal support or maintenance, formerly known as alimony. A clause in a prenup can put the issue to rest, leaving nothing litigate. The parties’ pre-marital assets can also be protected.” Adds Myrick: “Every time you pay your car insurance, you’re hopeful that you’ll never get into an accident. Every year when you revisit your medical insurance coverage, you’re hopeful that you won’t be diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. Is a prenuptial agreement that different? Think of it as an insurance policy built with love.”
But you have to do prenups the right way.
Sometimes, they can cause harm. “I find prenups almost always come about where one party springs it on the other just weeks or days before the marriage,” says Stuart Minion, a divorce lawyer in New Jersey. “They can be coercive, one-sided, emotionally damaging, or destructive.” If one or both of you is insistent on having something drawn up, consider doing it well before the wedding.
Prenup or not, you should keep really good records going into the marriage.
Even if you don’t plan on getting divorced (most people don’t), you should hold onto those pre-marriage bank statements. “Hypothetically, if a husband comes into a marriage with $100,000 in stocks, it’s his burden to show that he acquired them before the marriage,” Minion says. “It’s also his burden to show he didn’t contribute martial funds into those accounts.” Without the necessary documentation to prove that something was yours and didn’t get mixed with other marital money, it’s likely to be included in any sort of divorce settlement.
Spending habits are worth discussing on a date.
Sure, maybe don’t pull out your credit report on the first date. But you should talk about money early on. Really talk. “Most people don’t understand how important it is for spouses to have similar financial goals and habits,” says Joslin Davis, vice president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “You’re starting the marriage off on a bad foot if you expect your spouse, who has had no problem racking up credit card debt his or her whole life, to stop as soon as you get back from the honeymoon.”
In fact, everyone should budget better.
The biggest factors causing divorce that Minion sees? Money and infidelity. “And very often, the latter comes about because of the former,” he says. “Money causes conflict. And then people often look at other means of satisfying themselves or coping — and that might include a third party.” Couples should be on the same page about what’s coming in versus going out, as well as short-term and long-term financial goals.
After all, you’re marrying their money — and debt — too.
Even if you chose to keep your actual bank accounts separate, there is still a financial partnership that comes into play. “Financially speaking, a marriage creates one economic unit out of two,” says Andrew Samalin, director of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners. Anything earned during the marriage (paychecks, interest on savings, retirement funds, etc.) is considered marital funds and can be split up in the case of a divorce. “Generally, you share in the debts and the income, and you share in the risk and the rewards of the investment accounts,” he adds.
It’s smart to keep your own line of credit, too.
“One of the most important financial recommendations I make to my clients is to be aware of their credit score,” Samalin says. And make sure it’s in good standing. “By having credit autonomy, you are assuring your ability to get a loan without your spouse.” You know, if things come to that.
Divorce takes a long time — and a lot of money.
Weddings are known for their crazy price tags, but it also costs a decent amount to undo those nuptials. “People can expect to pay between $300 and $500 an hour,” says Minion. “There are some [divorce] cases that can cost $5,000 or $15,000 if they’re settled quickly. And there are some that can cost many multiples of that.” Of course, every situation is different, but it could take a year or more finalize a divorce.
You divorce the person you were married to.
Even after divorce, you’re going to be dealing with your ex for the rest of your life, and they probably won’t change. “Clients often come to me to modify a divorce decree telling me their ex is drinking around the kids, or won’t pay the bills they were ordered to pay,” Daniel says. “If I asked about how their ex acted during the marriage, it’s usually the same story: They drink too much, they don’t pay their bills. They aren’t going to get better after the divorce.”
You won’t automatically get everything if your spouse cheats.
Wanting to take an unfaithful spouse to the cleaners would be normal — but you probably won’t be able to. “In most states, marital misconduct — like an affair — does not entitle the innocent spouse to more assets,” says Davis. The money and property will be divided according to equitable distribution as usual, so don’t assume divorce is your insurance policy against cheating.
Your lawyer is not your therapist.
You may not need to know this before you get married, but it’s helpful to keep in mind when you’re starting the divorce process. When meeting with divorce lawyers, people often want to tell their story, and it’s a mistake. “They want to explain why they’re getting divorced and to validate their reasons,” Minion says. But in realty, what brings them to court is irrelevant to the end result.” At that point, you’d be paying too much to attorneys to try and hash out who did what or what you’re feeling in their office. The moral: See a counselor before you get to that point — and you have better odds of avoiding it in the first place.
If you get divorced, you’ll need to “check your ego at the door.”
Especially if you have kids, says Ben Heldfond, co-author of Our Happy Divorce with Nikki DeBartolo. “Divorces go bad because it hits hard and fast the two biggest ego buttons we have: romance and finance,” Heldfond says. “You’ll have to try making every decision, especially the ones that have to do with romance and finance, based on what’s best for your kids and not what’s best for you.” Adds DeBartolo: “It’s not fair to hand your kids a huge emotional bill and expect them to pay it off for the rest of their lives. They didn’t decide to get married, they didn’t decide to have kids, and they surely didn’t decide to get divorced. They shouldn’t face the consequences of your decisions.”
Divorce comes with a mourning period.
“People are often surprised by the sense of loss, even if they are eager to start a new chapter,” says Abby Rosmarin, Esq., LMHC, a family mediator. “Change is often unsettling. At the very least, people go from married to divorced — although there are many steps in between — and that alters one’s self-concept and how others relate to you.” If you’re thinking of initiating a divorce, make sure you allow for time afterward to adjust to your new life.