Marriages come in all shapes and sizes, and with all kinds of backstories. A marriage that starts out with the typical foundation of two people in love is the kind of marriage most people have in mind when they think of getting married themselves. What better way to envision your path forward in life, than with someone at your side for the rest of your days that you are in love with, and who is in love with you? Oh sure, there are reasons to consider NOT getting married. Maybe you’re too young. Maybe you don’t know if you’re ready to “settle down” yet. Maybe there are red flags you’re choosing to ignore about your partner. Maybe you wonder if you’d rather pursue your other dreams on your own – the dreams your partner may not share with you, or dreams that aren’t compatible with the shared life you’ve discussed making together. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Nah, We’re in love! That’s all it takes to start off a marriage. And for some, that’s enough to keep things going. Love is a powerful, wonderful feeling that ebbs and flows over the years, and can keep some couples together through good times and bad.
For the rest of us, there’s divorce. That process gets started in a totally different mindset, with a totally different foundation. You might not realize what that foundation is at first… But you know something is different. That person you were once madly in love with is now secretly meeting with an attorney while you’re away at work. The partner who used to show only passing interest in the specifics of your family’s investments and portfolio valuations is now printing out copies of statements so fast you can barely keep up with the demands for more paper and toner cartridges. And that “love of your life” is now asking real estate agents what they think they could get for your family home – the home you’ve been making all the payments on for years. If you’re the higher earner of the two, you are now in a world dominated by emotions and uncertainty, all swirling around one of the most variable factors in a contentious divorce – money.
When my own marriage unraveled, I was caught off guard by my wife who (as it turned out) had been secretly planning her maneuver for over 3 years before finally pulling the trigger. The surprise bombshell of divorce brought with it heartbreak, fear of losing my children, wondering where I/we’d be living, how would I be able to keep it together at work, and a thousand other mental tsunamis flooding out my ability to see and think clearly. Only once the initial chaos subsided a bit did I realize how foolish I had been to miss some core truths about love and life.
I still remember it clearly – that first meeting alone with my attorney and a financial planner who specializes in divorce. I had my laptop open, browser tabs landed squarely on each of my banks and brokerage services, printing things out to .PDF files and emailing them to people sitting 3 feet away from me at the same table. My head was spinning and I felt nauseous. It was bad enough that someone I loved was leaving and the biggest relationship of my life was ending. But now here I was – fanning away the clouds of smoke and getting a better idea of how big the fire she set really was – and how much money was going to go up in flames as a result of this process.
My financial advisor could tell I was getting overwhelmed. A calm and measured man who spoke slowly and softly, without any emotion on display – he said only 6 words: “I will not let you sink.”
I then turned to my attorney with a weak shrug, trying to get her read on things. Her response was only 2 words longer in length, but carried far more gravity: “Marriage is about love. Divorce is about money.”
I let that little nugget of truth sink in for the next few minutes as my two highly-paid professionals turned their attention back to the collection of statements I had just finished emailing them. I knew my carefully-planned financial landscape was about to get cluster bombed and laid to waste. I had failed to recognize and plan for what is one of the most common causes of financial ruin. And now I was learning life lessons that I had been unwilling to consider years earlier – because I was in love.
Love is a wonderful thing. But it can cloud your judgement, and your vision.
Money is a wonderful thing. But it can cloud your judgement, and your vision.
Never confuse the two, and always remember to keep them in their respective places when you think about their companions – marriage and divorce.