Tuesday, April 18, 2006

d-i-v-o-r-c-e

According to Twin Cities family law attorney Jonathan Fogel, I should be squirreling away money in a secret bank account that Steve doesn’t know about, just in case we get a divorce and I need money to hire a retainer. Huh.

Fogel is the author of a new book, Preparing for Divorce While Happily Married. I haven’t read the book — only an article about it from yesterday’s Pioneer Press. Here’s a snippet:

"Statistics show people are more likely to get a divorce than have their house burn down or get in an accident where their car is totaled — both of which people have insurance against," Fogel says. "I like to think of this book as 'divorce insurance,' in the event the unthinkable occurs."

If you wait until the divorce process has started, according to Fogel, "it is too late; you will have already lost." But if you take time to prepare for the worst, he promises, "you can save thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees as well as many years of therapy."

As unromantic as it might sound, Fogel advises taking the first step in preparing for a divorce right after you return from your honeymoon. That is the time to establish a savings account at a bank where you and your spouse have no existing accounts. Make regular deposits to this account small enough not to be noticed by your spouse.

This is your divorce fund, should you need it; retainers for divorce attorneys generally range from $5,000 to $10,000. And if you never need to use this fund, Fogel suggests splurging on a wedding anniversary trip or celebration.

OK, say we grant him his point — that divorce is common, and that even happy couples who can’t imagine splitting now may find themselves sitting in divorce court someday. And let’s also consider that women often lose out economically in divorces, and men don’t fare so well, either. (“Historically, women have been more likely to suffer greater financial losses due to divorce, but men have been more likely to lose most in the amount of time they can spend with their kids,” the article says.) Let’s even concede that it’s a good idea to prepare for worst-case scenarios. That’s why we take out life insurance, right?

Even so, I think sneaking money and keeping secrets only weakens the foundations of a marriage in the first place. I would be horrified if I ever found out Steve was doing that, and he agrees. In fact, behavior like that often leads to divorce, doesn't it? (We talked at length about this last night.) Yes, divorce happens, and it's terrible, and people do get hurt and show their worst sides. (And who knows? Maybe I'd feel different if I weren't secure in the knowledge that I do have some money that's all mine.) But I've thought long and hard about the meaning of the wedding vows we took nearly three years ago: To be true to my husband no matter how bad things get, to love him and honor him always. And I think it flies in the face of those ideas to adopt an adversarial stance in a marriage, or engage in dishonest secrecy, no matter how pragmatic it might sound. It breeds suspicion and erodes trust; it's just not healthy.

I was the one who balked almost four years ago when Steve brought up prenuptual agreements. We were at Engaged Encounter, taking a walk around a tranquil lake on the retreat grounds. Our assignment that afternoon was to talk about finances. It was a hot July day, and our discussion was just as heated. I couldn’t buy into the idea of taking sacramental vows for life with the knowledge that we also had contingency plans waiting in the wings. I was almost in tears as I argued passionately about this. I know many people do have pre-nups, and I understand that they make some couples feel more secure. I think it’s like anything else related to marriage: You find what works for you. But I couldn’t do a pre-nup. And I certainly can’t sneak money behind my husband's back.

Does that put me in a weak or vulnerable position? Does it make me naive? Maybe so. But there must be a way to acknowledge the harsh realities of our modern world and still have a partnership based on trust and faith for the future. I don't see this book as being a good guide.

Fogel, of course, says he doesn’t condone anything underhanded or dishonest. Here’s another snippet from the article:

Although the book cover shows a couple sitting next to each other in bed, each reading a copy of the paperback, Fogel doesn't recommend that.

He acknowledges the title could offend your soon-to-be ex-spouse and advises keeping the book to yourself to put yourself at advantage in a dispute.

"I don't condone underhanded tactics or dishonest behavior," he says. "That said, the first thing you will need to do after you purchase this book is find a good place to hide it."

10 comments:

David said...

As a child of divorce, I speak with all the sincerity and influence that may be granted to me over the internet.

My mother never expected divorce. She never hoped for it, never wished for it but she got it. Although she initiated the divorce, it all happens so quickly that before you know it, it’s passed you by.

In a traditional marriage, as my grand-parents would've understood it, a marriage is based on interdependence. The Man needs the woman for emotional support and, ahem, other co-operative endeavours. The Woman needs the man for financial support and, presumably, the same emotional support as the woman.

The obvious inequality is the dependence of a woman on the man. The ultimate question on a woman's mind is 'Can I afford to leave?'

Once you add the modern woman's higher skill set aggregate and wage increases and a woman no longer needs the man for financial security or survival. Then the woman begins to question the relationship, rather then her mere survivability without it. Is it fair? Should I be playing this role? Do I deserve more?

What your source seems to suggest is that one needs to prepare for financial security, and therefore emotional independence free from the cloud of monetary issues, before entering into a marriage.

Is it so wrong to want a more equitable relationship? On the other hand, is it because of traditional marriage's innate inequalities that divorce is rampant? It is easy to blame modern lifestyles and sexuality and to see religion as the cure, but never forget that religion invented the concept of Divorce.

If you are willing to dull your mind and dive headfirst, to leave your options closed and fully commit to your marriage, then keep your chequebooks shared and hope for the best for better or worse, till death do you part. But if separation does come and visit you unprepared, what shall life be like? If not for ever, then at least for the beginning.

My mother did prepare. She portioned off a share for herself throughout the 13 years before it finally struck. I suffered under a happy childhood marked by glum teen years. As a child raised under the spectre of divorce it would be easy for me to tell you to dive head first. But I can't. They weren't meant to be, and it took a very long time for them to figure that out, as it may for you. Squirrel away, hide your nuts. The worst case scenario sees you perceiving your relationship as it should be perceived.

David said...

Just read more of your blog, including your semester in Melbourne, I'm currently studying communications at the University of Technology Sydney. Not that Melbourne is really a city compared to Sydney, *huff puff*, but I hope you enjoyed your time in Australia.

Ellen said...

There is one word that explains why this book twists the knife even deeper into humanity's wound disguised as modern thought:
— Vocabulary.
In order for a marriage to work, divorce should not even be in the vocabulary. Out of sight, out of mind. Nothing else. Not an option.
Of course no one wants a divorce, just like no one wants to get a flat tire on the freeway. But if it happens, you should have a spare. So putting that analogy to marriage, it's a reasonable concept. I know a couple who waited until they were married for five years before they had kids, "just in case they split up." It makes total sense.
But making sacrifices to make a marriage work is something that is becoming less and less attractive, in a disposable society. Sometimes the sacrifices you have to make to make marriage survive are huge and, because it's human nature, are unexpected. Like if you will never be able to travel with your husband because his health (or even worse, his attitude) won't allow the two of you to travel together ever again. Or deciding that he no longer believes in God (true story).
One couple we know divorced after 15 years and three kids because he's not happy being a family man and wants to focus on his music. And they are practicing Catholics.
But you deal with divorce if it comes and trust God to show himself through suffering. Planning for the worse case scenario breaks down trust and solid commitment to the vows. Vows transcend the superficial in the fact that making a marriage work may mean you do things you never thought you would, even if it means...gasp!...settling for a sacrifice or compromise that may limit individual happiness for who knows how long, but choosing to stay married as an example of a relationship that is free of the word divorce.

Liz P. said...

I guess if that ever happens I will just be unprepared. Regardless of whether or not it might be a sensible idea to follow or not I could not bring myself to do it.

Beyond whether or not you should be prepared for the possiblity of divorce, the whole concept of secreting money away and hiding it from your spouse is a terrible idea. Suppose your spouse finds out about it...how could you explain it in a way that does not bring doubt into the marriage? "Oh that's nothing honey, that's just my secret money to protect me if I decide to leave you or you want to leave me" If it is a HUGE concern or you want to be prepared about it then I would talk to your spouse openly and you could both open an individual account and each get the same amount of money in it each month or whatever.

BUT, even so, the logic of the guy's argument may appear sound but it takes a lax view of divorce. Yes, people do get divorced... Yes, there are times when divorce is necessary and preferable... We have life insurance, health insurance, life insurance, so naturally? divorce insurance should be the next step.

My question...What about marriage insurance? What are you doing to ensure that you will give your marriage every attempt to keep it strong, healthy and loving. I would much rather sign a document with my spouse that we will not get divorces without at least a year of counciling (abuse situations excluded of course). If you are preparing for the worst by squirreling money away for a divorce what steps are you taking to preserve your marriage? I think that would a much healthier take and would do more justice to the institution of marriage.

Sometimes it seems that divorce is on the rise because the idea of marriage is weakening. (This has NOTHING to do with the gay marriage issue by the way). Because it is so easy to get out there are no consequences, no incentives to work for marriage, no sense of dedication to the vows we take. The word vow means "a solemn promise or statement; especially : one by which a person is bound to an act, service, or condition." (Dictionary.com) I take that seriously, and if you aren't prepared too you might not be ready to be married.

Random thoughts, perhaps not even coherent, but that article made me mad. Emilie I agree with a lot of what you said.

David said...

Oh I have seen "God's" suffering as dealt to divorcing parties, and I will have you know that trusting in your faith is not something to be taken lightly.

As for out of sight is out of mind, the image of an ostrich with its head buried deep within the sand comes to MY mind.

Are you asking this woman to sacrifice her peace of mind, her mental independence and her financial stability, and therefore potentially her stability full stop, in the name of "Ignorance is Bliss?"

I trust in myself when I plan my overseas trips. I know that the chance of an aeroplane crashing with me onboard is less then the chance of my being hit by a bus. Yet I take out travel insurance. Do I shiver in fear due to my 'break down in trust?' Do I stare out the windows expecting the worst? No I do not, but I am safe in the knowledge that if it comes I am prepared.

Eventually you must look at global statistics, which show that in OECD countries the divorce rate is often over fifty percent, and question why it is happening. Australia differs to France, which differs to Germany, which differs to Norway, and to believe that all these countries, in which woman have painstakingly earned a larger share of the nation's fortunes, are a part of your 'disposable society' begs for further scrutiny.

Not everything that God does runs smoothly for participants. We have enough disasters and wars to prove that. Why should this woman throw her future as a veritable martyr onto pyre of marital bliss, as you appear to suggest in your final lines? Why deny her the ability to decide with free mind and conscience whether or not her relationship is suitable now, in twenty years time or more?

I apologise if my response hijacks your beliefs or your blog, or insults you in any way shape or form. This is a topic which remains close to my heart.

Emilie said...

Wow, what a range of comments! I can see this subject definitely strikes a nerve. David, it's nice to meet you. I am guessing you must have found this blog through a comment I left on Feminary?

I appreciate reading your perspective as the child of divorced parents. It's a perspective I don't have, and I think my beliefs may differ from yours, but it does help me think the issue through. I still wish there were a way to acknowledge the realities of which you speak and, at the same time, focus on ensuring that I will put the health of my marriage above everything else (as Liz wrote), which is important to me, too. I don't think putting the marriage first, and choosing not to squirrel away money behind my husband's back, amounts to having my head in the sand. Perhaps (as Liz also wrote), if it comes to that, I will be less prepared than the women who do squirrel away secret money. But I think it's possible to be an intelligent, empowered woman but not live out my marriage with the presumption of divorce. I'd love to hear those stories, too.

Susanne said...

As far as saving your own money, in your own account, in case of a possible divorce, I have no problem with it. But pre-nups are a different thing. I loathe the idea of legally signing something that implies possible divorce. I think saving your own money in your own account is fine, as long as nothing's in writing. Then again, that may not be possible. It's a tricky topic.

Emilie said...

That's a good point, Susanne. Just to clarify, it's the sneaking and dishonesty about money that I have a problem with, not having one's own money per se. I myself have accounts that are only in my name, and I am glad I have them. I think it's empowering to have my own money if I should ever need to draw from it for whatever reason. But I don't keep it secret from Steve. And I don't view it as a "just in case I need to leave him" fund. (Even if, God forbid, that's what it becomes 20 years down the road.)

So that is different in principle from the discussion of a pre-nup, and I agree with what you said about those.

Emilie said...

Dang these uneditable comments. Another thing to clarify: While I have accounts in my name (mutual funds I brought into the marriage), it's not really considered "my" money, except maybe legally; Steve and I both treat our money as "our" money, no matter whose name is on the account. What we do have that's our own is an agreed-upon amount of "free" money - a line item in the budget - that we can spend on anything we want.

This is veering off into the personal finance realm, so I'll leave it at that for now. :)

David said...

Looking back, I guess I do seem to be advocating the deception of your partner. This is not what I am supporting, rather I support the seperation of certain funds. To make sure that the woman has her own money avaliable, should worse come to worse.

I normally don't comment so extensively on blogs. As you correctly observed it strikes a nerve. Not to voice my opinion would have been irresponcible of me.

I was actually clicking through the various blogs through the toolbar in the top right of the screen. Attracted by the pretty pictures, I read on and the rest is common knowledge.