Engaged? Congrats! Now let’s plan your divorce

Harsh title, right? Now, it’s not that I don’t believe in marriage or true love. After all, you can’t have watched The Princess Bride as many times as I have and be a total cynic. If you’re engaged, I genuinely hope you eventually become one of those adorable couples who still hold hands at the nursing home. But statistically some of your unions, I’m sorry to say, just won’t last. In Canada, roughly 40% of marriages end in divorce before the 30th anniversary.

My own marriage is included in that stat. We separated just before reaching our fifth wedding anniversary (thus depriving ourselves of gifts made of wood) and divorced about 14 months later. I don’t regret that the relationship ended, but I sure regret not getting a prenuptial agreement.

Marriage isn’t just about love or living together or having children; it’s also a blanket financial agreement that essentially says, “We share everything.” A prenuptial agreement backs that truck up. It’s a legal document signed before the wedding that discloses the assets and debts that you both bring into the relationship and outlines what would happen should the marriage dissolve. That said, if you want it to be worth the paper it’s written on, you’ll each need to show that you drafted and/or reviewed the agreement with your own lawyers.

Anyway, I didn’t have one.

What stings is that I actually thought about getting a prenup before we got married. After all, I had savings and a newly purchased condo. He, on the other hand, had student loans and credit cards that he would only make the minimum payments on. But … did those things really matter? What would it say about my outlook on our relationship if I asked for a prenuptial agreement? Weren’t prenups just for wealthy people (which I sure wasn’t!)? And perhaps the single biggest thought that was my undoing: did I really want to be that woman?

Looking back now, yes, I’d really prefer to be that woman than the woman I ended up becoming: the one who handed over about $100,000 to someone who left her for a cocktail waitress. Yes, a cocktail waitress. It’s so clichéd that I sometimes laugh about it. And then I go buy another cat.

When is a prenup totally unnecessary? In my (never) humble opinion, it’s when all of these factors are present:

  1. You share the same attitudes and behaviours when it comes to money. (Not sure? Take the Love and money quiz.)
  2. You are both entering the marriage with very similarly valued assets, debts, incomes and earning potential. A net worth calculator can help you figure that out.
  3. You have the same chances of coming into an inheritance down the road.
  4. You have a special love that will last forever and ever.

An aside: if you couldn’t say yes to #1 – shared attitudes and behaviours about money – I implore you (from experience, something I’ll chat about some other time) to explore that further before getting married or combining your finances. Trust.

A well-crafted prenup can do more than save you a chunk of money – it might even save your marriage. A friend of mine, who does have a prenup in place, confided in me that his wife suddenly became “bored” of the marriage and agreed to counselling only after she did the math and realized how little she’d walk away with. Sounds a bit callous, but it gave her a much-needed pause. Luckily, my friend and his wife resolved a number of issues, his spouse sought help for a previously undiagnosed depression, and they’re stronger than ever. So you never know, right?

But even if you’ve decided that a prenup is not for you, I’m going to suggest a couple of other things that you can do before you get married. So please take a break from your wedding board on Pinterest for a moment, and consider the following:

  1. Understand the Divorce Act. You might be under the impression that if a partner does you wrong – like commits adultery or acquires a crazy, secret debt – they’re entitled to less than a 50–50 split of the acquired assets should you separate. Wrong. In Ontario (and most provinces), family court is not Judge Judy – it does not care about the drama. Half!
  2. Talk to your partner about money. Don’t be shy about it. Review your finances together, talk about your spending and saving habits and plot out your financial goals. And if there’s a major discord in how you each view money, deal with it! Treat it just as seriously as you would if you just found out that one of you desperately wanted children while the other would rather adopt a pack a hyenas.
  3. Make copies of your financial records. Why? If one day the impossible (see 40% chance) happens and you find yourself seeking a divorce, you’ll need to eventually disclose what your financial situation was right before the date of marriage. As it turns out, banks only keep that information handy for four years. If you separate after four years together, you have to request the bank to snail mail your records to you. It’s one more pain the booty that you just don’t need. So print ‘em off, file ‘em, and hope to never refer to them again.

There’s one more thing you can do, even after you get married, that can protect your assets from an ex – and that’s write a marriage contract. (And, nope, I didn’t do that either because I didn’t know it existed.) I’ll chat about that financial regret in another post.

Until then – unless I’ve bummed you out too much – happy wedding planning!

Tagged , , , , ,

One Response to Engaged? Congrats! Now let’s plan your divorce

  1. Pingback: Debt and Relationships | GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca