Thursday, April 22, 2010

6) Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Ahhh, spring is here and I just finished tax season.  So, I'm addressing anniversary cards and realizing that two of the four friends with May anniversaries have split!  One is already divorced since this time last year, and the other is in the middle of mediation.  I suspected neither at this time last year.  One friend, who is older than me, gave me much hope for remarriage (or a domestic partnership - I do divorce financial planning) and kids.  After all, we're re-writing the rules on longevity.  (See for the London Times article on Cambridge's geneticist Dr. Aubrey de Grey).
Time to whip out Neil Sedaka and reflect.  Or have a good cry.

            I'm a romantic at heart.  And not just in the amorous sense.  I enjoy heroism (e.g. Hercules), chivalry (White Knights cloaking puddles for maidens), music & the arts, Brotherhood, idealism, choking up during a death scene, you name it.  But marriage is a difficult one.

            How many relationships (e.g. marital, familial, work, friendship, business) do you know of, that last a lifetime, much less that are practical or functional - or, dare I say, happy?

            Historically, marriage was a practical consideration.  Someone worked to provide food and shelter, the other tended children, clothing and the home.

            It wasn't until the 19th century that a romantic notion crept in.  And popular society didn't really embrace it until the 20th century - when the word, divorce, entered the daily lexicon.

            Yet about 50% of all US marriages end in divorce.  Second marriages end two-thirds of the time and third marriages end at a staggering 75%!  Women are the petitioners 60% of the time.  Some industrialized/European nations lead us (e.g. Sweden), others, follow suit.

So, is the heart the best compass?  Is it the only one?  Should one's heart be tempered by the mind and a moral compass, and be subject to difficult decisions rather than naive or selfish ones?  (Then, again, does the concept of ‘should’ really exist?)

            Has marriage outlived its usefulness?  What's its place in modern society?  How does it fit into our lives?  Is it for romance, children, finance?

            In the last few years, more Domestic Partnerships have been created for heterosexual couples than homosexual ones.  It seems to be a growing trend.  How many couples have you heard of that spent years together 'in sin', only to have ‘him make an honest women of her', and then to almost immediately break up?  There must be all sorts of perceived, if not actual, pressures.

            And with women having achieved more equal rights and equal opportunities in the work force (puncturing the corporate glass ceiling), the military, fraternities, and starting businesses more frequently and successfully than men, combined with increased life expectancy and increased desire for independence and happiness, and increased access to information and other women for the exchange of ideas and support, is it reasonable to expect a relationship to last?  We individually evolve and change.  It might be nice for our relationships to change with us while retaining the intimacy, but what if it doesn't?  The lifetime paradigm of marriage may not be practical.

            It's romantic: a white dress and a wedding day, and dinner parties to show off the home and stemware; growing old together and caring for each other in front of the fireplace with the grandchildren.  But it's a tall order that requires much commitment and work, especially when the inevitable challenges arise for which we are ill prepared and didn't see coming.  Relationships require bilateral commitment, two-to-Tango, commitment that is too often lacking and not forthcoming in our throw-away, immediate-gratification society.

            Maybe, like a driver’s license, marriage should include education, written and practical exams, and insurance or posting a bond, and expiration/renewal - not just a cash & carry license.  (Shouldn't credit cards and guns require the same?)

            Marriage is a contract - a contract before the State, if not God!  Isn't it almost as sacred as life?  Is your word, your bond?  Do you practice the Golden Rule and do the ‘right thing’?  Judaism has a marriage contract, the Ketubah.  It also has a respectful, short process for dissolution without explanation.

Binding, legal contracts must contain ‘consideration’, the exchange of value to each other.  However, if you let the State in, you are subject to their laws; for example, in NYS, probably the last state to require grounds for divorce, each partner is entitled to sex with the other once per year; if not, you have grounds for divorce known as Constructive Abandonment (vs. Abandonment - where one party cannot be found).

            Do you want a judge, who has to listen all day to problems and who, resentfully, might make less money than you and who may know little about money and taxes, make decisions about your finances for you?  And to decide the fate of your children?!

            Businesses have all sorts of partnership agreements that address dissolution, sale, retirement, death & disability.  Why don't marriages with its dissolution rates?  We’ve all heard of pre-nuptial agreements and post-nuptial agreements.  By identifying and dealing with these potential scenarios, can we not focus more on the good and the positive, and attempt solutions - or at least make any dissolution easier?

            People study business in school, should we study marriage?  We study the food groups, sex ed, literature, money.

What motivates us?  Love?  Peer pressure?  Parental pressure?  Pregnancy?  Fairy tales?  Madison Avenue?  De Beers?

Love may be the starting point, but it is obviously not the end all.  Maybe the starting point isn’t even love!

            So why marry?  Love, romance, sex, children, family issues, companionship, money, insurance, security, taxes, immigration, appearances?  What are each party's responsibilities?  Might you wish to enumerate them in a marriage plan with role descriptions, an annual meeting, and an updated manual?  Should there be a strategic planning meeting with a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)?  Is to 'love, cherish, in sickness and in health' specific enough?  And even if it is, how often is it reviewed, discussed, analyzed, practiced, and used as a guide?

            Does marriage belong in your Faith rather than the State?  Is a Domestic Partnership or a Civil Union the wave of the future?  Do they fit better into the division of Church and State?  Do they fit better into your life?  There's less pressure and either party can unilaterally dissolve it.

            Should you ask for help like in taxes, medicine, investing, business, driving directions?!  Isn’t it as important?  The Courts are beginning to require mediation and prefer the various methods available outside the courtroom.

            Should you have to have a pre-nup or post-nup agreement?  Should you have to renew your license?  Should you have to take a refresher course to get a discount on your insurance?  Is it fair to clog up the courts when you want out?  Are you taking the easy way out?  Have you been responsible and held up your end of the bargain - to yourself, your partner, your family, your community (in front of whom you may have taken sacred vows), your country and society?  After all, you are party to a Social Contract.

            If you do split, how?

·         Detente, a marriage of convenience where you stay married but lead separate lives?  This might keep up appearances, save the children, maintain your financial status quo and self-esteem.

·         Negotiate - do it yourself

·         Abandon your spouse

·         Litigate - give your money to the attorneys, clog the courts (even though the vast majority of cases settle outside the court room), torture your spouse and use the kids and money as weapons and pawns to avoid the real issue - your emotional pain, hurt, and suffering?

·         Mediate - have a neutral third party help you structure your own divorce by helping each party 'be heard' and become educated?  The courts will most likely stamp it.

·         Collaborate - each have an attorney who is contractually obligated to 'make nice' but advocates for their own client.  Or even engage in interdisciplinary collaborative divorce whose model, additionally, offers at least two 'coaches' (mental health pros - and maybe a third for the kids) who support each party, plus a neutral financial professional who offers advice on budgets, ‘maintenance’ (as the courts call it; alimony, as the IRS calls it), child support, and how to divide assets with the best tax advantages for the couple's financial planning goals in homes, career, kids, colleges and retirement.

            Emotionally, divorce will take its toll - probably more on the partner left behind.  Divorcees feel like we failed, we’re embarrassed, hurt, injured, angry, maybe vengeful; our trust has been violated, and our hearts crushed.  The healing process can easily take 2-5 years+.  (This adds to another US epidemic - depression.)

And why do we call our former spouses, our ‘Ex’?  That’s somewhat ugly, and not PC; it’s like we had them ‘rubbed out’.  Besides, maybe it wasn’t a mistake; maybe we changed or outgrew the relationship.  Or maybe something bad happened outside our control, like the inability to have kids or the death of a child.

Nevertheless, we may be changed forever.  And the financial ramifications can be life-long.  Therefore, divorce is probably the single most important financial decision of a lifetime.

            If so, didn't your contractual dominos start at marriage?  Weren't you educated or aware enough to have seen and considered this possibility, in spite of your cultural inculcation?  Maybe.

            So where does marriage fit?  I don't know; I really don't.  I certainly don't have your answers.  I know the process and mechanics for divorce; Simons Financial Network provides Divorce Financial Planning with 'Equitable, Honorable Solutions'; 'We Advise, You Decide'.

            So in the words of the ‘70's TV commercial, 'What's a woman to do’?  (Not to mention the poor men who love them - but that's a story for another time.)


  1. Is domestic partnership not a contract and governed by the same laws as marriage when it is dissolved?

  2. A Domestic partnership is a contract; however, it is treated differently at dissolution. will explain how domestic partnerships work for New York.