I was having lunch today with two friends. I asked them what, if anything, they would like to know more about in the area of personal finance. One of the women was quick to answer, “I would have gotten divorced sooner if I’d realized how much it cost me in my retirement plan, my investments, and my home equity. You should caution women to consider the greater financial losses if they wait to consider divorce. ”
I recalled the number of clients who had the same response. Those who had gone through a divorce well into their fifties had the same regret. “If I had only reacted sooner to what I knew was a failed marriage, I would have saved myself so much money and could have considered retirement so much sooner. Now I know I have to work since half of all my retirement plans are gone.”
There are those who would offer “men have had to pay up for divorces even if it was the woman who was at fault.” So why is this such a hard pill for successful women to swallow?
Comes back to our culture
It was always assumed the man was the breadwinner and it was his responsibility to provide for his family. It was the wife’s job to stay at home and care for their children.
But that typical scenario disappeared with the go-go boots! In more than a third of households, we are the primary breadwinners. Although that looks like a good thing, we are now subject to the same family law rules, irrespective of gender. If we are supporting the family because our income is significantly higher than that of our husband’s, the divorce laws say we have to pay child support, alimony and split the retirement plans and business values we created. Seems unfair to many women, but I guess it comes under, “you can’t have it both ways: equality and gender-based laws.”
So how do you protect the resources you have created? Pre-nuptial agreements. But if we start out in life in the same place (walk-up apartment, student debt, used furniture, minimum pay in the first job) how can we possible foretell who will be the primary breadwinner in the future?
Come on, folks
If you are the professional with the possibility of a high-earning career, and your spouse in is the human services field, you can guess who will be the higher earner. And having that conversation before you tie the knot will help significantly in later years if you decide to go your own ways.
We all know of the spouse who worked his or her tail off to get their partner through some professional school (law, medicine, architecture, dental school) and then once the big paydays roll around, he or she has no more use for the martyr. It pays (literally) to have that what-if-we-split conversation well in advance.
We all have to look at marriage as a legal contract with much more than an emotional connection and family. If we took some time to see it as such, it would save so much pain and financial angst in the future. Plan accordingly.
Maybe it’s time we consider the value of living together, as my husband would say, “without the benefit of clergy???”