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The Business of Marriage: How Couples Can Protect Their Assets from Divorce

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There are few things more frightening for couples than the possibility of divorce. For many of us, it can sometimes feel like the mere mention of the D-word invites it in. But ultimately, the fear, shame, and stigmas surrounding divorce is what keeps so many people in relationships that are harmful or that simply have no future. Knowing how to protect yourself in the event of marriage isn’t common knowledge, and with couples avoiding the topic entirely, it can be difficult for couples to learn how to protect themselves and their assets before the wedding day.  
As a divorce lawyer, and 2-time divorcee myself, I have firsthand experience with the financial, emotional, and physical toll both parties endure in the process of amicable parting ways. While I looked like a lawyer walking into court in my suit and pumps, encouraging my clients going through the divorce process, when I got home and kicked my shoes off, I was a broken version of myself. It wasn’t until I agreed to be interviewed on a friend’s podcast that I actually began speaking so vulnerably about my divorce for the first time.

As a divorce lawyer, and 2-time divorcee myself, I have firsthand experience with the financial, emotional, and physical toll both parties endure in the process of amicable parting ways. 

I spent so long trying to curate a perfect reputation as a lawyer all the while avoiding discussing my divorce so I wouldn’t be judged by other lawyers or have my credibility diminished. But when the podcast episode dropped, I was inundated with messages from other women thanking me for speaking so vulnerably about my story and confronting my shame. I know that I’m being judged by some others in the legal world and those who know me personally, but I just don’t care anymore. It’s so freeing when you stop letting the weight of other people’s opinions weigh you down.
Now, I celebrate my divorces as lessons, and I congratulate myself for taking those massive steps toward living a happier and more aligned life. I’m now able to utilize my personal and professional experience with divorce to help couples navigate that difficult process, I also want to equip men and women with insight, and actionable steps to help them protect their assets should their marriage ever end in divorce.

 It’s so freeing when you stop letting the weight of other people’s opinions weigh you down.

Don’t Make These Mistakes

Knowing how to prepare yourself in the event of divorce isn’t easy, and there isn’t a one size fits all solution. When I think back to my own divorces, I advise couples to not do what I did. Even as a divorce lawyer who understands the process of divorce and how to take the right preventative measures, it was difficult for me to see the signs when it came to my own marriages.
During my first divorce, I wanted to stand on my own two feet as quickly as possible so I walked away from some things I may have been entitled to. I think I also felt so guilty for causing so much pain to my ex, that I wanted to make the divorce process as easy as possible. I don’t regret that because it all worked out, but I would advise others to make sure they understand what they are entitled to.
For my second marriage, I was in and out of it so fast. The best action I ever took was not stuffing the red flags down for too long. I knew early on that it was a relationship destined for the rocks, so I exited quickly. We were married for less than two years. Because of that, it was easy to divide assets and we didn’t have any children. I’m so grateful that I listened to my gut instinct and didn’t stay married longer because things would have been more financially complicated the longer the marriage was.
And for my current husband, well, when we started dating, I knew exactly what I wouldn’t stand for, what I was looking for, and what my values were. I wasn’t going to force something so I went into dating with absolutely no expectations that it would turn into anything. On one of our first dates, I hammered him with questions that were important to me about religion, finances, parenting, communication style, and so on. My eyes were wide open and I was going to be extremely honest with him about who I was and I expected the same from him. It all worked out. He is my match in every sense of the word.

Lay it All on the Table

Everyone believes they know their partner best, that is, until they get married. Whether it be intentionally or not, it’s not uncommon for people to hide important qualities about themselves that may be a deal-breaker if revealed early on in the relationship. Once those qualities begin to surface after tying the knot, couples will find themselves feeling devastated and lied to by their partner, resulting in their marriage fraying at the edges.
Couples don’t like to talk about money because it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have especially if someone has debt. However, it’s important that you get it all out in the open now because I promise it will come back later. Discuss who is a spender and who is a saver. Come up with a plan for how bills get paid, how discretionary expenses are decided on, and what your retirement strategy looks like. Talk about your debts and work towards a budget that’s feasible for both parties. In the event of divorce, your partner’s debt can fall onto your shoulders so you’ll want to make sure that their debt is something you’re willing to help them work towards paying off, in marriage.

Schedule Time to Talk about Money

In my experience, the topic of money is the number one cause of conflict in most relationships. Because of this, couples tend to shy away from having difficult conversations that need to be had before and after marriage. To get ahead of any future disputes, couples should schedule in some time to have a conversation about their finances rather than mentioning it in passing at the dinner table. They should bring all of their documents with them – recent bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns, and retirement statements. They should have regular meetings about finances, too, just like a business owner has. Couples tend to wait until there’s a major issue to then address their finances which ends up being far too late. Being proactive is always the best financial strategy. I also believe both parties should know what is happening in the marital finances at all times. It amazes me to hear how often one person doesn’t know anything because they said their spouse handled it. Then when there is a surprise that forces both parties to take a look at their finances, the partner least involved is left dumbfounded.
It’s important to remember that financial issues and problems with spending become exacerbated during the divorce process. To prevent a nasty separation if it were to ever occur, couples should be aware of each other’s spending habits and discuss how the money will be managed in the marriage.

Evaluate Prenup Options

Prenups are a great idea if either person is coming into the marriage with assets, property, debt, a business, or even children. If it’s a second or third marriage, a prenup should be considered to protect your children from the previous marriage. In some cases, I’ve advised clients to avoid a prenup because it can be restrictive and minimize what they might be entitled to if they didn’t have one. It’s always best to seek legal counsel and determine what provisions you’ll want to include in your pre-nuptial agreement or if it’s even the right move for you. Ensure that you sign your prenup in advance of your wedding and that both parties can agree that the terms are fair. Keep in mind that your prenup can be modified in the future so it isn’t entirely set in stone once signed.

It’s always best to seek legal counsel and determine what provisions you’ll want to include in your pre-nuptial agreement or if it’s even the right move for you. 

Have Separate Accounts

I am a huge advocate for everyone having separate bank accounts and credit cards. You can have joint accounts, too, but each of you should have some personal funds that are solely within your control. It’s also important that both of you build credit on your own. There is a misconception that adding your name to a spouse’s credit card will help you build your own credit, but it does not. If your partner appears to be against the idea of you having your account, this should set off several alarm bells. Entrusting your finances solely to your partner regardless of whether or not you deem them to be financially responsible, can lead you to financial ruin should they mishandle the money. It can also leave you at a major disadvantage in the event of divorce.

Have Separate Counsel

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer is to make sure that both you and your future spouse have separate attorneys. You need your own counsel advising what is best for you. Often, the person requesting the prenup will have their attorney prepare one and slide it over to the other person. It's so important to bring that document to your own, independent attorney. Also, make sure it’s being negotiated well before the walk down the aisle. It’s not uncommon for couples to wait to sign the prenup a few days before the wedding, but it leaves you running the risk of being presented with an incomplete document. One party may even feel rushed into signing it because they are too focused on the honeymoon to have it adjusted to better suit their needs. Lastly, make sure there is full disclosure of all assets. Both of you need to know exactly what you are bringing to the table and how it will be treated if the marriage dissolves.

Marriage is great. Clearly I believe so, since I’ve done it three times, but make sure you pay attention to the red flags.

Something that bothers you now will not get better in marriage. It will always get worse. So, make sure you address any major issues before you say “I do”.  Focus more on what is going to happen once the last song is played at your wedding. What does regular life look like? Have conversations about that more than the flowers. And at the first sign of trouble, get into marriage counseling so you can address the issue and preserve the relationship. When couples wait too long, resentment festers and it’s hard to undo that.
…and don’t forget to have fun with your spouse. Make time for enjoying each other’s company and you’ll be set up for success.
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