Is Divorce Worth the Cost?

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Dear Robin:

I found your blog after hearing you on the air in Palm Springs.  I notice you have a passion for alimony reform and assume you pay alimony.  I retired almost a year ago and my wife and I split our time between the Northwest and the desert.  I am miserable in my marriage.

I will spare you the details but I haven’t been happy for a long time.  I don’t think she is happy either but I also don’t think she cares.  She spends most of her time with her friends shopping and playing tennis and going on walks.  We grew apart years before our last child left home but I don’t think I truly understood how unhappy I was until I retired and had no office to escape to every morning.

My investments took a large loss over the past few years but have just started to come back in the past year.  After everything I have read I am deeply concerned that divorce will ruin me financially.  What can I do to lessen the financial impact if I choose to end my marriage?  You pay alimony: is it worth it?

Frank

Dear Frank:

Let me first clear up your impression that I pay alimony because I don’t.  My ex-husband and I both worked and earned roughly the same amount during the marriage so alimony wasn’t an issue for us.

Even if I had earned ten times what he did (as I plan to when I take over the airwaves), alimony wouldn’t have been on the table because my baby-daddy isn’t a whiny, dependent lazy asshole with no ambition but to live off the work of his former spouse.

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As the wife of a payer and friend to many payers and second spouses, I became involved in the reform movement after seeing how devastating this issue can be for the men and women who are forced to support former partners indefinitely even when the former spouse made no effort to support themselves and even when economic changes made such support impossible.

By the way, to my gay friends in Oregon celebrating yesterday’s ruling: please stop by your local Divorce Industrial Complex office and pick up a prenup before you get that marriage license.

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I conducted a highly scientific poll* recently and discovered that 100% of people who describe their divorce as “amicable” (as my ex and I do) do not pay or receive long-term or permanent alimony and split the assets and debts 50/50.  I’m going to be frank with you Frank, that’s not going to be the case for you.

Thanks for speaking with me this morning and giving me some details.  Your wife hasn’t worked since your first child was born 27 years ago and though this bothered you, you never spoke to her about re-starting her successful sales career.  Dumb ass!

Your 2 children are both through college already and your home is paid for in full and worth approximately $700,000.  You retired early at the age of 57 and in your last position you made over $250,000 per year.  You have almost $2,000,000 in investment accounts.

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I AM NOT GIVING YOU LEGAL ADVICE: PLEASE SEE DISCLAIMER HERE: I’m Not Your Lawyer

Your first question was: what can I do to lessen the financial impact if I choose to end my marriage?   My answer is very simple but unfortunately you cannot accomplish my directive without your wife’s cooperation: you must do your absolute best to keep things amicable and to avoid the generation of massive legal fees.

How do you do this?  If you choose to end the marriage do so with professional help from a therapist and in a transparent and open manner.  Don’t start fucking around and don’t try to hide money – that’s just stupid and will piss off your wife when you get caught.  A pissed off wife spends a lot of time bitching to her lawyer and trying to find the best ways to put the screws to your financial nut sack.

I would try to reason with her and just say: “Clearly this marriage is dead.  I want us both to find happiness and I want us to retain as much of our money as possible. Please don’t fight with me and give all our money to the attorneys.  Let’s hire a mediator and a forensic accountant to see if we can settle this thing on our own.”

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Your second question was basically: Is divorce worth the cost?

Well, my friend, that depends on how much you value your own “happiness” versus the contents of your “thing” collection.  We all have a “thing” collection: houses, investments, cars, clothes, jewelry, dogs, pots and pans, and even friends.  These are some of the things we risk losing in a divorce, not to mention our dignity, pride and sense of place in the world.

“Happiness” is a more vague concept, right?  We can’t put it in the bank or drive it, nor can we wear it around our neck or use it to pay for a vacation.  I know many people who are happy to be unhappy and remain in marriages that so clearly stopped working years ago despite best efforts to fix the problems.

Some stay for the children, whether grown or adult, but most stay because change is scary and the fear of financial ruin is too much to handle.  These are the people who will sublimate their own happiness because they value their things over their soul.

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I don’t know you, Frank, but you sounded like a really nice guy on the phone and I could hear the desperation in your voice.  You haven’t felt loved (or been fucked) in years and as your 60th birthday approaches you are yearning for a better life and a true partner to share what time remains.

Compared to 99% of the world you have a shitload of money, even once it is cut in half via property division and then cut in half again and again and again for alimony. I don’t know one single person who pays alimony that doesn’t resent the hell out of it, but I also don’t know any payers who would go back to the unhappy marriage and the healthy bank account that came with it.

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Ask yourself this question: if you could see into the future and know you only had one year left to live, would you spend it with your wife?  If the answer is no, get on with the divorce and find yourself someone to love and who will love you back, not treat you like a roommate and ATM machine.

We get one chance, Frank: one spin around this crazy planet until a bus or disease or old age or lightening strikes us down and makes us garden mulch for Mother Earth. Figure out what value you place on happiness and if the value of your happiness exceeds how much you care about money and things, go seek it.  It’s out there – trust me on this.

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-Robin

*not really