Postnups for Stay-at-Home Parents

Last week I heard a segment on American Public Radio's Marketplace about postnuptial agreements. Postnups are growing in popularity as a smart way to help married couples cope with battles over money -- who earns it and who spends it. Anxiety over long-term financial security is a common issue undermining couples' happiness, especially when one parent scales back or gives up a career to be their children's primary caregiver. The financial "what ifs?" can run an endless loop in many stay-at-home moms' (and dads') minds when they don't have a paycheck and benefits in their name.

Marketplace interviewed New York lawyer Cynthia Rubin, who has drafted agreements to protect the parent who forgoes his or her earning potential to stay home with children.

"[A]n identity change [can] cause a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in a marriage...[I worked with] a couple who had decided the wife would stay home with the kids. But after making that decision, the wife felt powerless and wondered what would happen if they ever divorced. The agreement formally acknowledged how much the decision had cost her career as an attorney in case of any future separation."

What a practical idea. I've listened to friends (and the voices in my own head) about what would happen to us financially in case of a divorce. One stay-at-home mom e-mailed me about her plan to work at Starbuck's and rent a cheap apartment in a good school district if her husband left her. While I hope none of us gets divorced, it's better to have a plan for a future that we never need than free-floating anxiety clouding the present.

Marketplace went on to quote therapist Dr. Rob Scuka, who explained, "Anxiety can suck a tremendous amount of energy out of a relationship because it's rooted in uncertainty. What a post-nup does is eliminate the uncertainty, which then reduces the anxiety."

Sounds good to me. An added benefit is that a postnup quantifies the value of staying home and raising kids -- a rarity in our society where childcare givers get minimal recognition of their work. Some good sources for information about how postnuptial agreements can help stay-at-home and working moms and dads, start with Equality in Marriage or About Marriage.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  June 14, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
Previous: Guest Blog: 'I Am an Autism Mom' | Next: Singletary Weighs in on Postnups Debate


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I'm just curious how these arrangements work and how they differ from alimony. Is there an agreement where as if the couple gets divorced the one working continues to support the other until they can support their selves?

Posted by: scarry | June 14, 2006 8:05 AM

While I'll be one of the first to admit this is a great idea and is an easy way to reduce many of the great unkowns while being a parent, I am left to wonder how did so much change in just one (or two) generations? What happened to knowing that marriage meant you were in it for the long haul. For better or for worse...

Posted by: generation | June 14, 2006 8:55 AM

At the same time, isn't drawing up a post-nup agreement (prenup too IMO) just 'planning to fail'? IOW, if you know you've got a 'safety net' in case something goes wrong, isn't it tempting to take the easy way out and get the divorce rather than trying to work out the differences while staying together?

Posted by: John | June 14, 2006 8:59 AM

I hope I am not alone when I say this REALLY disturbs me.

"Anxiety can suck a tremendous amount of energy out of a relationship because it's rooted in uncertainty. What a post-nup does is eliminate the uncertainty, which then reduces the anxiety."

Um... I think I would have more anxiety if I thought my realtionship was over. A postnup just gives the stay a home parent an easy out. For example... a couple has a problem. They have a "postnup." The working parent wants to work things out....but the stay at home doesn't. The youngest child has a year left in high school and with that postnup - the stay at home has nothing to worry about, their "loss of income" has been legally dcocumented.

Though I agree that there are some horrible people out there (a close friend of mine is going through a pretty bad divorce -- she gave up her career to stay at home)... but am I naive in thinking that most people are inherantly good? And if in a worst case scenerio, divorce had to happen, the working parent would recognize the sacrifice the stay at home made?

Posted by: frustratedmom | June 14, 2006 9:04 AM

OK, for some reason I am under the impression that a PreNup (and probably a PostNup too) are really only relevant to couples that have a very significant difference in income -- kind of like the "marriage penalty" that always comes up in income tax conversations. Because when the couples earn roughly the same (by this I mean within 20% of each other) the judge can just pool the marriage assets, split them down the middle, and neither spouse would feel disproportionate pain anyways.

The only reason that I am asking is, much like John above, I think that PreNups and PostNups can probably do psychological damage to a marriage. I have no proof on this, but I have to believe it. The easier the divorce process, the more people would opt to get divorced instead of working things out. I don't want to have a convo with my wife about what happens if we break up. I would rather have a convo about what we need to improve so that there is no way we'd ever break up.

Posted by: Proud Papa | June 14, 2006 9:07 AM

What happenned to For Better Or For Worse?

What are we teaching our chidren? If you do have a postnup, aren't you being a bit hypocrytical when you tell your children to work out their problems?

It's just a way for lawyers to make more money.

Posted by: Practice what you preach? | June 14, 2006 9:09 AM

To generation:

It's true that divorce was harder to get in previous generations. However, it doesn't mean that marriages were happier. And many individuals, barred from divorce, simply abandonded their families. This happened several times in my own family's history, in my great-grandparents' generation. It was devasatating for the families left behind, especially since it was the fathers who left and there wasn't much of an option for women to work. Because of this, my great-grandfather left school to support his family at the age of 12.

I think people tend to look at the past with rose-colored glasses. Folks weren't any more noble back then than they are today.

Posted by: Ms L | June 14, 2006 9:09 AM

I don't believe that most people think divorce is the 'easy way out'. If explicitly acknowleding on paper that the stay-at-home parent is contributing equally to the family as the working parent, and that the stay-at-home parent is also foregoing career advancement, 401Ks, & whatever else increases the chance for divorce, then I believe that couple was in trouble anyway. In fact, I believe that such an agreement would help those many parents that feel undervalued and unappreciated by their working spouses, which will contribute to the relationship's overall health.

Posted by: Raia | June 14, 2006 9:14 AM

"I don't want to have a convo with my wife about what happens if we break up. I would rather have a convo about what we need to improve so that there is no way we'd ever break up."

Proud Papa, I couldn't agree with you more.

Posted by: Arlington | June 14, 2006 9:14 AM

If you're assuming you're going to get divorced at some point in the future, why bother getting married in the first place? If you don't trust your partner to take care of you, why have children with that person? It's not fair to the children.

This kind of thing sounds more like a business arrangement than a marriage. Maybe these folks would be better off staying single.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 9:16 AM

How romantic. While we are quantifying the lost income, tenure, and experience of a spouse that stays home why don't we consider the economic cost of working. Most of us would not work if we had the means to satisfy our needs without work. Or we might work in very different jobs -- I'd make furniture rather than be an economist, for example. Working and commuting 50 hours a week is a substantial amount of forgone leisure and enjoyment with our kids. How much would I be willing to pay to get that time to be with my son? A lot. Being at home with kids isn't all fun and giggles, but often it is. Now that I re-read it though, this post isn't very romantic either.

Posted by: G | June 14, 2006 9:20 AM

My husband was married once before (no kids, thank goodness). She was in charge of the finances. While he paid her way through an expensive law school, she took money from the marriage (including an inheritance from his grandmother) and put it into a separate account in her own name. When all the law school bills were paid, she used the "free legal services" benefit of her new law firm to divorce him and get almost all of the assets from the marriage.

Now my husband and I are married, and despite what he went through, he lets me be in charge of the finances. It may be naive, but you have to trust your partner.

Posted by: Ms L | June 14, 2006 9:26 AM

Interesting discussion. "What if" is one of the reasons I stayed in the workforce. It also gives me financial independence from my husband and confidence to stand up to him on issues relating to our children and our future as a family. I had noticed that most of the stay at home mothers I know are the ones whose income would have been spent on nanny/daycare so it really made no financial sense for them to work. The ones who remain in the black after paying for childcare continue to work. As for pre-nup and post-nup I am really torn. When I was getting married, my mother said to me: make sure that you are marrying a person with whom you can also have a civilized divorce. Sounds ironic but she was speaking from experience. If one feels that he/she need a pre/post nup with their spouse, then chances are they will need to go to court to get it enforced.

Posted by: a sceptic | June 14, 2006 9:28 AM

WHY EVEN BOTHER TO GET MARRIED AND HAVE CHILDREN?

Posted by: Fred | June 14, 2006 9:29 AM

To Ms L
I'm in agreement with you--I have one set of grandparents that really love each other and another set that are at the point that they hate each other and were never 'The Beavers.' But--and this is what I remind myself--they care about each other and take care of each other because they KNEW what they were getting into. I think when people get engaged today they plan for the wedding, not the marriage. And a testiment to that is that the avg wedding cost is north of $20,000 now. That's a lot of money that could go into a marriage nest egg or child college account which would reduce some of the financial parental stresses. Maybe much of the postnup popularity stems from a lack of planning?

Posted by: generation | June 14, 2006 9:30 AM

I think that's a really good idea.

My husband out-earns me by 60%. I worked part-time many years while our children were small because his schedule needed to be open for travel and clients. Part of his success is due to my choices. Heaven forbid that we should divorce, but if we do a chunk of change from that business is going with me.

I think the knowledge that a departing spouse won't be scott-free financially might be a good thing for some. The grass would not be 'greener' if the spouse leaves, so why not stick around and work things out.

We really need Michelle Singularity to weigh in on this one as well.

Posted by: RoseG | June 14, 2006 9:34 AM

Pre-nups make sense if the spouse has a significant wealth because of shares in a family business or something that if loss would not only affect the people in the relationship - but also family outside the realtionship.

I can say that currently being the breadwinner (I make 3 times as much as Husband) is giving me a lot of insight for when Husband and I switch roles. I think that will do a lot more for us than any silly agreement every could.

Posted by: Danielle | June 14, 2006 9:49 AM

"The easier the divorce process, the more people would opt to get divorced instead of working things out."

Umm, I think the 50%'ish divorce rate proves that many people already opt for the divorce. Not judging, b/c many of my friends/family are divorced. But, I don't see how these post-nups could make things any worse.

Plus, though you would like to think your spouse would want an amicable divorce -if it were to come to that- with a fair distribution of assets that takes into account the time one of the spouse gave up income and earning capacity, it is amazing how ugly people become during that process. Or at least they -like my dad- CAN become. Though I don't know if I could wrap my brain around signing one of these things, I don't think that they are the worst idea ever.

Posted by: JS | June 14, 2006 9:51 AM

I think women these days are more savy about their rights with regard to marriage. When my mother was divorced with three children under 13 and only a college degree but no work experience, she took $300.00 a month in child support because she thought that was "Fair". I don't think women today would do the same. Most women of my generation & younger (I'm 42) expect and want to work after college. They know what "fair" really amounts to and it is not $300.00 to support three kids.

My husband and I are joint owners of all of our financial assets, except our 401ks. I don't think I would need a post-nup to get my fair share were we ever divorced and I agree with the poster who said I'd rather have a conversation about fixing my marriage than getting out of it. Plus I see this as just another way to line a lawyer's pocket and cause unnecessary anxiety in marrital relationships. Can you just envision the t.v. adds a la ambulance chaser, a frightened looking woman being calmed down by a post-nup chaser & his deal.

Posted by: Virginiamom | June 14, 2006 9:54 AM

Ms L, you are right on the money! My grandfather left my grandmother with nine children to raise alone in the 40's. Talk about tough times. Her oldest two kids stuck around and were the backbone of the family. Marriage is tough stuff, but that 50% divorce rate is not exactly what you may think it is. Lots of people do get divorced, but many of them are serial monogomists. Three divorces under her belt and my childhood friend is walking down the aisle again while I am celebrating 15 good ones (mostly!). People like that skew the statistics.

Posted by: Lexi | June 14, 2006 10:15 AM

Maybe this is a generational thing - I'm married and 29 - but I think this sort of thing would make me feel a lot better were I to give up my job to raise kids. My generation just doesn't have the same romantic approach to marriage that our parents' generation does, because we've grown up with half our friends' parents divorcing and seen it happen in our own families. That doesn't mean my husband and I are any less committed to each other than older couples are, but it does mean that the *idea* of "marriage till death do us part" isn't what keeps us together. Our love and committment to each other keeps us together. And when you get down to it, I'd rather trust us to keep our relationship strong than I would trust in society's concepts of what marriage should be.

That's why a post-nup to protect the party who becomes a stay at home parent seems like a great idea. Just because we're committed to each other doesn't mean we're naive about what might happen one day. We want to be together forever, but we won't be if one of us becomes miserable in the relationship. I think we're just comfortable enough with each other to know that recognizing the possibility that we might one day be unhappy doesn't make that unhappiness any more likely to occur. If anything, a post-nup puts more strings on divorce and makes it more of a pain in the butt, which is a good thing.

Posted by: katy | June 14, 2006 10:21 AM

I think this is a great idea. My husband and I are not on the same wavelength when it comes to spending, since the birth of the child, and I want to do everything to protect my son in case he would ever leave us.

I don't think it's planning to fail, I think it's more like planning to survive an crises. I have an emergency kit in case of terrorism/mother nature/flu pandemic, but I'm not expecting, or hoping, for anything like that!

Posted by: NewMom | June 14, 2006 10:21 AM

Like many of the previous posters, I think the idea of this almost sets people up to fail in their marriage. I never liked the idea of the pre-nup and in some ways, the post-nup seems even worse. If there's going to be a marriage, there needs to be a trust. If there's no trust, the marriage is doomed before it's even begun. If there's that much mistrust, maybe the marriage shouldn't happen in the first place. That said, I do think a SAH parent needs at least some minimal "protection" for lack of a better word. Even if the SAH is earning no money, they should have some kind of retirement account in their own name that gets regular contributions. Deeds to homes, titles for vehicles... none of this should only be in the name of the person getting the paycheck. The SAH should never be in the position of having to ask for money from the wage earner. They should have equal access. It should be "their" money rather than "his" or "hers."

Posted by: Rockville Mom | June 14, 2006 10:25 AM

In response to the poster who stated that couples today plan for a "wedding" as opposed to the "marriage," I wanted to point out that it is not just those getting married over the last few years that are getting divorced, in fact, it is more likely those who've been married much long than us. What's more is that many of the people getting married today are children of divorce and I find that most of my friends (I'm 26) are very serious when they say divorce is not an option. This doesn't mean that none of us will, but I think we know better than anyone what it does to a family, particularly the children, since our parents were really the first generation to "accept" divorce as an option. The parents of both my fiance and myself are still together, married 30+ years, and while they set a great example for us of staying committed and working at a marriage, cause it does take work, they aren't perfect. Instead of looking at them when they are in a tough place and thinking that we would want out if we were like that, we talk about ways to deal with those issues and avoid having similar problems in the first place. Especially when it comes to communication... in so many instances it seems that open, and respectful, communication is the answer to most problems, not having an "out." Give the younger generation a break... we understand the seriousness of marriage, regardless of how much we spend on the wedding.

Posted by: bride-to-be | June 14, 2006 10:26 AM

I think the post nup is a really good idea, especially in situations where one parent works and the other stays home to raise the kids. The parent who stays home to raise the kids can be at a severe disadvantage in any dispute with the spouse because of the lack of income, and also the lack of experience and marketable job skills. The working parent could conceivably take advantage of this situation and either mistreat the parent who works at home, or abandon him or her.

I know everyone will say how unromantic, where's the trust, this is planning to fail, etc., but I see it another way. When you are first married and in love, you can put measures in place that will assure that your spouse gets a fair shake in case of divorce. To me, that is pretty romantic. I see it as planning to succeed. I am the working parent in my relationship, and I love my husband and have shown him that if for whatever reason our marriage ever failed, I respect him enough to make sure that his contribution to our marriage is not disregarded. I also think that if an equitable prenup or postnup is put in place, both people in the marriage will see that their partner has recourse and will not accept unfair treatment. The person with the earning power or the money will be accountable to the other spouse, and such accountability will motivate both parties to behave honorably towards each other. In the end, this is helpful in a marriage.

I have seen too many marriages linger in unhappiness because one person was afraid to demand fair treatment, and the other had so much power that he had no motivation to treat his spouse respectfully. I have seen too many divorces where the infighting was so intense that it exhausted the financial and emotional resources of those parties and left everyone with nothing but resentment and hate. Whether we like it or not, divorce is a fact of life now, and we can either see this reality and plan for marriage and its contingencies in a loving way, or we can stick our heads in the sand and react to life when we are least able to see things objectively.

Posted by: Rockville | June 14, 2006 10:28 AM

I fully expect to be accused of being a troll when I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway. If you - man or woman - expect your earning ability to take such a body blow after a decision to stay home, then a post-nup is not the issue. The issue is that you can't afford to stay home.

There are people who can afford to stay home. Some of them have careers that don't penalize a few years off; some of them have family money; some of them have saved like crazy before they left work and have enough to float them through the time they'd be getting their skills up to speed.

These people are generally in the minority, however; most people who take a few to several years off work are going to be penalized for it when and if they try to go back. I'm not interested in debating whether this is fair or right; it's a pre-existing condition that most people are aware of and need to take into consideration. If your earning potential will crash so dramatically that you need a post-nup to insure you again that risk in the event of divorce, then it's pretty clear that you aren't in a position to quit work, regardless of your preferences.

There are many thing I'd like to do with my life. Due to my and my husband's financial circumstances, however, it's unlikely that I'll be able to do many of them. Life isn't fair.

I would also be interested in knowing how well post-nups stand up in court. I would be totally unwilling to stake my future financial health, and that of my children, on a legal device which is so untested (and, given the rate at which pre-nups are overturned, so incredibly uncertain). Talk about irresponsible.

Posted by: Lizzie | June 14, 2006 10:32 AM

RoseG -- While I consider Michelle Singletary my "financial guru" I'm afraid she and I disagree on this issue. She is very much against prenups, so I can only imagine she feels the same about postnups. Ironic, I think, since a prenup or postnup is like a will or power of attorney -- documents to make sure you're prepared.

Nobody goes into marriage planning to get divorced. Nobody ever lives their life planning to get sick or incapacitated. Isn't it better to be prepared for all possibilities?

One final thought. You may trust your spouse, but in the end even you don't know 100% what goes on inside his or her head. I work for a lawyer, and people who trust other people is what keeps me in business.

Posted by: Jane Doe | June 14, 2006 10:35 AM

What's next? Five-year marriage "contracts" renewable at a mutual option? A "buyout" clause if one spouse gets a better offer somewhere else?

A marriage is the creation of a family, not a business relationship. If you're not confident your spouse would "take care of you" in the event of sickness, injury, or even staying-at-home (or that you would do the same), maybe you shouldn't be marrying in the first place.

Posted by: Gary | June 14, 2006 10:41 AM

"A marriage is the creation of a family, not a business relationship."

Actually, it's both, and the government relates to it solely in terms of a business relationship. That doesn't mean that the family aspect shouldn't take priority, but it does mean that the business aspect shouldn't be disregarded.

Posted by: Lizzie | June 14, 2006 10:45 AM

Would you want to marry someone who says, "Let's get a prenup so if we get divorced I can protect myself from your selfishness."? Preparing for divorce while preparing for marriage? At the wedding altar both take oaths to serve the other for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Prenup/Postnup destroys trust and corrodes the relationship.

Posted by: MarriedForLife | June 14, 2006 10:47 AM

This is a tough one, and I'm not sure what side I come down on. I have always coped with uncertainty by imagining the worst-case situation and then figuring out how I could survive. When I was a kid, that meant knowing that if a fire broke out in the house, I could climb out the window, across the porch roof, and jump. Didn't mean I thought there would be a fire, was planning for a likely fire, didn't trust my parents to take care of me, obsessed about whether a fire would happen, etc. It's just how I managed to put worries aside and get to sleep at night.

When I got married, I didn't worry much about "what if he leaves me"; when I started to think about worst-case scenarios, I'd just think, well, I'm working, I'll be hurt, but I'll survive. And that knowledge let me forget about it.

Then he got caught in the telecom meltdown, and we began a tour of the Rocky Mountains for new jobs. When we had our daughter, I was telecommuting back to the east coast, and I realized that I was tremendously vulnerable in ways I had never been before. Most importantly, the state I was in would not allow a parent to move out of state with the child without the other parent's consent (or a court order). So not only was I living in a place I hated, with all my family (i.e., the support system that I'd need if I were a single mom) and my job 1600 miles away, but he actually had the power, if he chose to use it, to force me to stay there. I saw that happen to a friend of mine -- she finally got up the guts to leave her controlling and abusive husband, who had moved her there for his job, and he then used the court system to force her to stay there and prevent her from moving back to her old job and life.

To the folks who have suggested that a written agreement would provide an easy way out for some minor unhappiness: that was just so far from my thinking that it's hardly worth mentioning. I have never had even the slightest thought of leaving him -- if that were an option, I would have done it years before, when I had to leave everything I knew to move across country. But what if he cheated on me? What if he decided he wanted out? Knowing that someone else -- even someone I trusted implicitly -- had complete power to control the most important things in my life was tremendously wearing.

Let me be clear here: my husband is a good man, I trust him more than anyone I've known, and he has never, ever done anything that could justify any suspicion of that sort. But I needed to know that if my husband suddenly lost his mind and became a different person, I had a window I could go out. And suddenly that window was closed and barred.

Unfortunately, having my "safe" place cut off from me changed some of the ways I acted, changed how I thought about myself -- and him. Because I couldn't just put that worry aside with my mental solution, I thought about it more, worried about it. Then I began to look for anything that could possibly be construed as cheating, looked for signs that he was unhappy with our marriage (in ways that probably bugged the bejeebers out of him), and became ever more verbal about my unhappiness there and desire to move back east. My reactions to the insecurity were not helpful for either my mental state or our marriage.

But the situation also made me think in good ways. I realized that even without the law, I should not automatically move back east if he left, because our daughter needs her dad. I realized that if he did do something stupid, I owed it to my daughter to not just kick his sorry butt out as a knee-jerk reaction, but to go through counseling and see if something could be mended.

So would an agreement like this have been good or bad? In many ways it could have helped -- I believe our day to day interactions (and certainly my stress level) would have been better had I known that if he did lose his mind, my daughter and I would still be ok, that I at least had the option of moving back to my family, friends, support system, and job, even if I chose not to exercise it. At the same time, I would never have asked him to sign anything that said that. When I looked at the situation logically and objectively, I knew my worst-case scenario wasn't realistic, that he would not try to use any kind of divorce as a way to make me miserable. And I just couldn't have asked a good man to sign a paper that said, basically, "here's what happens in the event you turn into a humongous jerk."

Posted by: Laura | June 14, 2006 10:51 AM

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5013262.stm

The three underlying concepts for consideration were stated to be:

* the financial needs of the parties
* compensation for economic disparity as a result of the marriage (e.g. where the wife has given up her career to bring up the children)
* marriage as a partnership of equals.

----
Why place such pressure on the couple as many have noted here. Why doesn't the law enshrine some protections for both spouses and children>

Currently, law is adversarial even in some mediation situations.

Posted by: Maryland Mom | June 14, 2006 10:53 AM

I think this is a good idea. I know a 60 year-old woman who gave up her career to raise 4 children. She and the children's father divorced (he cheated on her), he remarried, she did not. She has spent the last 20 years scraping by. Her ex-husband died recently and she is fighting to get his social security - claiming that she is owed it, not the second wife (who has family wealth) and I say good for her. It's stories like these that make me scared to quit my job to stay at home.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 10:54 AM

Presumably the WOHM parent would also want a reciprocal provision in the postnup stating that the SAHM parent would not raise the decision to work outside the home as a negative factor against the WOHM parent in determining child custody after divorce.

Posted by: Tom T. | June 14, 2006 10:59 AM

JaneDoe- I'd have to disagree that no one goes into marriage planning to get divorced. Of the people I know who are divorced, many of them regret that they didn't listen to the voice inside their head telling them not to get married. Or their spouse later admitted that they were never really ready to get married and now want out. Subconsciously many people know they're doing something they shouldn't do (if you read ask amy, etc, you'll see plenty of this) and do it anyway because they think it's too hard to back out.

Personally, I think the desire to get a prenup is compromising with that voice in your head yelling to get out. Listening to that voice in the first place would work far better.

Posted by: Em | June 14, 2006 11:00 AM

"If you're assuming you're going to get divorced at some point in the future, why bother getting married in the first place? If you don't trust your partner to take care of you, why have children with that person? It's not fair to the children."


I couldn't disagree more. Sometimes things change in a marriage. I've known women who stayed home over 20 years, and then the husband, who liked it that way, decided he was "bored" or had never been happy (my take: another woman).

If the wife had had a post-nuptial agreement, the divorce proceedings would have been easier all the way around, and the game playing would have been kept to a minimum.

I had a friend who insisted on a post-nup after another friend's marriage broke up as described above. The husband in the healthy marriage had no problem showing that he was willing to protect his wife. After all, if he wasn't planning to divorce her, then why not agree to it?

I have really changed my mind about all of this, mostly after my husband cheated. We're still married, because I don't take my commitment lightly. Interestingly enough, when he thought I might seek a divorce (I never once mentioned it either), HE said, "All you want is my money."

Honey, he wouldn't HAVE any money if it weren't for my scrimping, saving and investing. I often did without so we could save the most in his 401(k). And, I worked before I stayed home, so yes, I do have IRAs and 401(k)s that would be split, too.


Posted by: anonymous | June 14, 2006 11:03 AM

"And if in a worst case scenerio, divorce had to happen, the working parent would recognize the sacrifice the stay at home made?"

Often it doesn't work this way. During divorce, people remember what they choose to, or start to make up a fiction about the marriage so that they can justify their bad behavior. Sometimes the contributions of one partner are diminished and dismissed.

The good feelings during the marriage are nullified for many going through the divorce, so you can't count on your spouse's current attitude to hold during a nasty battle, even if you choose to be rational and fair yourself.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 11:05 AM

"If you're not confident your spouse would "take care of you" in the event of sickness, injury, or even staying-at-home (or that you would do the same), maybe you shouldn't be marrying in the first place."

You obviously have never seen couples divorce in a nasty manner. The anecdotes I have are many wherein there were loving couples that didn't work out for whatever reason. You'd NEVER expect the behavior that one or the other exhibited. So count yourself lucky. But, do take off the rose-colored glasses, please.

Posted by: JS | June 14, 2006 11:06 AM

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/14/business/14leonhardt.html

Sorry to be off topic. But I think that this article on state funded childcare in Canada is pertinent to this Blog, and will soon be discussed here.

I also think that the marriage contract to support "through sickness and in health, 'till death do us part" is a solid foundation to work upon. If you need/want/have a post-nup too, and need to pay a lawyer to reinforce the original contract - I shudder at the celebrity death match in the divorce. Whooooweeee! and I am a progeny of two lawyers. I guess its a pre-divorce. Doesnt taste right to me...but diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks. Sometimes I guess Americans respond best to market-based contracts rather than sentiment based ones.

Posted by: father of 3 | June 14, 2006 11:10 AM

to bride-to-be....I'd like to give your generation a break, but since I'm 25 and part of your generation I know all too well how we act. We're all about 'what's in it for me?' And we want everything RIGHT NOW. Although we are a selfish and impatient generation, we are keenly aware of the wrongs of previous generations so we try to avoid making the same mistakes. But in the end, we tend to look for an out as soon as things get difficult.

Posted by: generation | June 14, 2006 11:15 AM

I think the folks in the pro-PreNup & PostNup camp are still missing a valid point.

It not the energy/planning/lawyer&counsellor dollars put into the "here is what we do when/if our marriage fails" excercise better spent on a "here is how we can learn to communicate better and appreciate each other more" excercise?

Even if you don't perceive your marriage to be in danger. Hey, you don't wait until your car breaks down before you maintain it.

Posted by: Proud Papa | June 14, 2006 11:17 AM

"Make sure that you are marrying a person with whom you can also have a civilized divorce." Amen! Deep down, I knew my fiance was not to be trusted and that in an emotional situation, he would protect himself first. But I bought us a house, and put his name on the need with mine, and when he cheated on me, he acted as if the house was half his and cheated me out of any profit on the house value. Do you really trust your intended or do you just wish you could and fool yourself? Do I wish I had a piece of paper to protect me? No, I wish I had simply not been such a fool to put his name on the deed. My own mistake, in trusting him too much to "do the right thing".

Posted by: KC in DC | June 14, 2006 11:19 AM

The person you marry is not always the person you divorce.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 11:20 AM

I have to agree with Lizzie about the fact that many women (yes, we're talking about mostly women here) leave work to raise a family when they really can't afford to. Thus, women need to protect themselves. Not by enriching more lawyers but by education and WORK. I saved my inheritance in order to stay home with our kids. I figured that was what it was meant for. But I also got a good education and picked a career that would allow me to work part-time or return to full-time work if needed. In other words, I thought about it before I got married and had kids. Way before. I didn't need a post-nup to know how my fiance felt about our financial situation and potential contributions, I discussed it clearly with him.

Yes, sometimes people make mistakes in chosing their partners or life-altering things happen that they aren't prepared for (you get pregnant so you get married or have children sooner than you planned). But I think the best preparation is for women and men to prepare to support themselves, and one or two children (or however many you can manage) on their own.

Posted by: Think ahead | June 14, 2006 11:22 AM

I think this is just another tactic to scare people and spend more money on lawyers. First of all, a pre-nump is usually a document that protects the person who has a lot of income compared to his/her spouse coming into the marriage (so this is different because it I guess is to give money to the person who doesn't have as much income in the marriage). Also different states have different laws for alimony, some states are more stringent than others. Also, I don't see a post-nump as something that necessarily makes things all that clearer. For example, what happens if the SAH has an affair etc. Who is filing the divorce..all these issues would have to be discussed before hand.

Also by the way the 50% divorce rate is misleading, the way its calculated does not mean that half of all marriages end in divorce. It's calculated by looking at howm any marriages were performed versus how many divorces. So for example, people who are divorced once have a higher chance at a second divorce. Other factors as well affect divorce rate.

Sorry for the long post, but I truely believe that we've gotten to the point where we need a legal document or insurance policy protecting us from everything... Why can't people just take the risks and enjoy life.

Posted by: new to DC | June 14, 2006 11:22 AM

"We're all about 'what's in it for me?' And we want everything RIGHT NOW."

Oh, come on. You can't make these kinds of generalizations about whole generations. I have friends my age (31) who take their marriages extremely seriously, and I have WWII-era relatives who have had three or four spouses.

Eleanor of Aquitaine got a divorce. Does that people back in the 12th century didn't take marriage seriously?

Posted by: Lizzie | June 14, 2006 11:24 AM

I think having a post-nup or at least talking about the financial ramifications for the stay at home parent makes a marriage stronger and more equal. If you don't protect the stay at home parents financial future, this creates an unequal power situation in the marriage. The employed spouse can afford to leave the marriage, but the stay at home parent cannot. Who wants such inequality in a marriage? When we decided that my husband would stay home with our kids, we talked through how to protect him financially, so he we would be financial equals. To stay home, he was giving up not only current income, but also career development and higher future earnings. I think our discussion showed him how much I respect and value the work he does at home, which I think made our marriage stronger and better.

Posted by: Virginia | June 14, 2006 11:26 AM

I think this can be a good idea, mostly as a way for a couple to really discuss and quantify how each thinks about and values their contributions after a big change like having one stay home and not have an income. I think far too much is assumed and left unsaid in many relationships, communications is the key to success. Maybe a legal document seems a cold way to do that but why not.

Now, I did not stay home with my kids, but when we divorced I was quite surprised at how my husband really thought about a number of things, including the value of what we each did and what was "his". Basically he looked at everything we had (money, possessions) as his unless they were specifically mine, i.e. all things I would have thought were joint were "his". And he thought that he spent more time with the kids although objectively that was not anywhere near true. Not saying this to bash him, he is a pretty normal nice guy really. Just that in a marriage, the two people can each have really starkly different ideas and assumptions about things, and it would be good to lay those things out and understand them *before* things go south in the relationship. And I think that laying things out in a document might be a good way to make these things clear.

Posted by: Catherine | June 14, 2006 11:27 AM

realistic - maybe not

I want to live a long healthy life & take care of myself, but I have medical insurance because you can't control everything.

And the mom in the blog that would work at Starbucks & rent a cheap apartment in a good school district would probably need 2 Starbucks jobs.

Posted by: romantic -yes | June 14, 2006 11:31 AM

JaneDoe - I really didn't know what Michelle Singularity would think about this, so that's interesting she's not pro-agreements.

I guess I thought that talking about money with your spouse, and working out an arrangement that leaves everybody with some of their own would have been in her realm.

If I have a will I'm assuming that I'll die with something to give away, but I might not. It doesn't seem to be that a pre/post nup is too different, the probability of it happening is just lower than that of dying.

Posted by: RoseG | June 14, 2006 11:35 AM

Putting an agreement like a postnup in writing is a great opportunity to have serious conversations that people too often don't have:

THIS is why we're choosing to have one parent at home. THIS is what we know will be the financial ramifications. We BOTH agree that this is best for our family right now.

Too often couples are on very different pages and don't even know it.

Of course, you can have that valuable conversation without a legal document. But I don't think the legal document would hurt a strong marriage at all.

Posted by: TC | June 14, 2006 11:39 AM

Look at it this way:
Death is 100% certain, but look at how many people have life insurance or a will to protect their loved ones?

Divorce statistics indicate that you have a 50/50 chance. It is likely that the vast majority of people who end up divorcing expected to be together forever.

To not consider the statistics is irresponsible, for yourself, spouse and children.

Posted by: sr | June 14, 2006 11:39 AM

to lizzie: I don't speak for everyone and as far as Eleanor of Aquitaine--she had wealth and power on her side. These are two things most women don't even have nowadays when getting a divorce.

Posted by: generation | June 14, 2006 11:40 AM

Another thoguht on this subject. To my husband and me, like for many people, getting married meant that we were one unit. That means whoever worked (and sometimes, it was one of us, and sometimes both) the money was always ours. We talk about goals for us our kids, save up money together, etc. Everything we own house, car, bank accounts, is in both of our names. Am I still open to some risks if we get divorce. Damn right I am. But my husband and I would rather spend our time talking to financial advisors on how best to use our money now (investing in college funds for the kids, setting up IRAs), rather than a lawyer on how to get extra money if we break up.

Posted by: new to DC | June 14, 2006 11:41 AM

To Em | June 14, 2006 11:00 AM

There is no "fighting over" Social Security benefits. Any divorced spouse is entitled to benefits on the ex's record as long as they were married for 10 years. It doesn't matter if he married anyone else or has other kids or anything like that. Their benefits will not affect her benefits. She just needs to visit her Social Security office and bring the marriage certificate and divorce papers. A divorced widowed spouse can receive reduced benefits beginning at age 60. You can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or visit the website at www.socialsecurity.gov for more information.

Posted by: AMO | June 14, 2006 11:42 AM

I've been married for almost 16 years. Several times a month, my wife shouts at me things like, "I want a divorce! I can't believe I married you! It's the biggest mistake I ever made in my life!" I have to agree with her that marrying me was the biggest mistake she ever made, but she is the one that wanted to wear the white dress, walk down the aisle, pitch the dog and pony show, not me.
The problem, as I see it, is this concept called romance, which to me is a big lie, but I pander to it anyway because it works in my favor. I found out early on that a little stupidity and foolishness can get me to places that are very desirable. However, my wife, like most girls, have been sold the idea of romance, through fairytales and Hallmark cards, is representative of love. A marriage contract, as the state sees it, is a legal document, and costs about $40, which was cheap enough for me to pony up my half - $20 at the time.
So then I married my wife, who already knew what a scoundrel I was, but did the "Death Till We Part" commitment anyway. Now, after 4 kids, we are dirt poor, and it's all her fault. Call it a business arrangement if you want to, but I prefer to call it a legally bound responsibility manangement routine. If my wife wants to get out of it, it'll involve lawyers (not that there is anything wrong with lawyers), and cost thousands of dollars which she can't afford. Poor girl! At times, I feel sorry for her, but she did it to herself. In my defense though, of all the lies I've told her and promises I've broken, the biggest one, "Until Death Do We Part", will not be one of them. That's what I call love!
Did I tell you all that today is my work-at-home day, which to me is synonamous to "sex-at-the-office" day. Oh, and it looks like it's time for lunch. WooHoo! I'll check in after the nap.

Posted by: Father of 4 | June 14, 2006 11:45 AM

"Because when the couples earn roughly the same (by this I mean within 20% of each other) the judge can just pool the marriage assets, split them down the middle, and neither spouse would feel disproportionate pain anyways."

As said above, it also has to do with wealth coming in.

When I got married, I was worth about $1.2 million. My wife was worth about $30,000. Even though our incomes were about the same, I would have more to lose should we get divorced. In this case, a pre- (or post-) nup is warranted. However, I didn't need one.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 11:46 AM

Post-nup is a great idea; anyone who does not plan financially for the possibility of divorce or a spouse's death is taking a risk, and that risk could impact the children as well.

Folks are talking about romance and trying to fix problems in a marriage, and these are admirable things. But, marriages do fail, and each of us can only control what each of us do, not what our partners do (i.e., walk out for someone else).

Frequently divorce is the quickest way for a woman's socio-economic status to drop. This was not the case for me when I divorced; I had my financial affairs separate from my husband's (he was fiscally irresponsible).

What folks are forgetting: marriage is a LEGAL contract. When we run down and sign for our marriage licenses, we are giddy and in love, and we forget about the legal implications.

Anyone who says divorce is an easy way out has never been through the pain of ending a marriage. Our divorce was so amicable that my attorney commented, "I wish all my clients were as friendly as you two are." And even though we remain friends, I still grieve over the failure of my marriage (and I worked my butt off to keep this going, choosing marriage counseling over pressing assault charges against my ex-husband).

Posted by: single western mom | June 14, 2006 11:49 AM

This issue leaves me torn. My parents divorced after 27 years of marriage, throughout most of which my mom worked to take care of us and support my dad in his career. The divorce put both my parents in worse position financially (it almost always does, as there's rarely enough money to support two separate households), but my mom is the worse off for sure. So I can see the value of these.

On the other hand, I really feel saddened at the way so many couples approach their finances, thinking of money as belonging to one or the other. For example, someone wrote: "I had noticed that most of the stay at home mothers I know are the ones whose income would have been spent on nanny/daycare so it really made no financial sense for them to work. The ones who remain in the black after paying for childcare continue to work." Why is it that the woman's earnings pay for day care? That's how my brother and his wife do it - she uses most of her salary to pay for day care, and they treat it as if it is her expense, not a family expense. So many couples treat their money this way, and I think that kind of thinking sets up conflicts and distrust. When my husband I got married we both closed our individual accounts. Any money that comes into the household is OUR money, no matter who earned it. And spending decisions are OUR decisions. We are a team, a partnership, whatever you want to call it, and we manage our lives (including our finances) together. I think that's such an important part of marriage and family, learning to think about yourself not as an individual but as part of a unit, and putting the interests of the unit as a whole first. Our decision to have one parent at home part time was a joint decision because it makes life easier for the family, and therefore it doesn't matter that the money in our account comes from my salary - we both support our family in different ways.

Posted by: Megan | June 14, 2006 11:51 AM

I'm sure this has been said already, but I don't understand the thinking that goes into pre- or post- nups.

Is marriage not meant to be for the rest of our lives anymore? Why do people plan to fail at something that is so totally within their control? It's not realism, it's deep, self-directed cynicism.

Planning to fail is planning to fail. It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me. I'd like to see a study that looks at the divorce rates of those who get pre/post-nups vs. those that don't.

Brad Roberts (Happily married for 5 years and counting)

Posted by: Brad | June 14, 2006 11:56 AM

If the post-nup places value on the contribution of the non-working spouse because of what they have given up financially and/or career wise, shouldn't the contribution of the working spouse be given the same consideration? Give the non-working spouse more financial assests and give the working spouse custody of the kids - after all they sacrificed their time with the children in order for the other parent to stay home. why is this not as much sacrifice as the stay at home parent giving up a career?

Personally, my husband and I both worked regular 40 hour jobs so that we could both have equal amounts of time with our children and each other. Not as much financial gain this way, but tremendous personal gain. Everything we bring to the marriage is ours. There is no his and hers.

If I had been able to stay home with my children and then was divorced and left with a lower standard of living, it would be hard. However, I would have gotten at least half of everything since my name would be on the assets. And being with the children full time is priceless, and I would be able to ajust with a lower standard.

I would agree that a pre-nup would be needed if one spouse had substantially more assets than the other. There are too many gold-diggers who are able to completely fool people about their intentions to leave pre-existing assets open to what would basically be thievery.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 12:19 PM

when i got married i didn't "plan" to get divorced. yes, that satistic was in the back of my mind but that doesn't mean i am "planning" on failing. i'm still married so i still don't think i'll get divorced but that still doesn't change the fact that life happens. people change and who knows what the future will bring. as for divorce being an "easy out" even the people i know who were the ones who initiated the divorce never thought it was "easy". necessary maybe but not easy.
how many of us would tell our parents that a will isn't necessary because "i trust my sibs to do the right thing"? not many of us. i've seen people who are involved in a divorce do some down right ugly things to the other person.
i think that a pre-nup or a post-nup is a plan to articulate what you want/expect from the your spouse i really don't see it as a plan to fail.
one of the trite little sayings i've seen is - failing to plan is planning to fail. if that saying were true than NOT having an agreement in place is planning to fail.

Posted by: quark | June 14, 2006 12:29 PM

a skeptic said:
" I had noticed that most of the stay at home mothers I know are the ones whose income would have been spent on nanny/daycare so it really made no financial sense for them to work. The ones who remain in the black after paying for childcare continue to work. "

I think this is a generalization that isn't rooted in fact at all. I myself am an exception - I actually earned *more* than my husband did when I quit to be a SAHM, and it definitely made "financial sense" for me to work. I can think of dozens of SAHMs whom I know personally who have the earnings potential to be WAY in the black after daycare. And on the flip side, I know women who work who are losing money on the deal.

Work is obviously a financial necessity for many single parents and spouses of working people. But often the choice to have one parent at home has nothing to do with money and everything to do with a belief that it is best for the children.

Re: postnups. In my state, I believe the ex-spouse is entitled to half of their former partner's retirement account. We are not a community property state. Skills and contacts can be kept up even when you're "at home" with your children. It seems to me that there are far better ways to accomplish financial security in the event of a divorce than to draw up a contract like this which basically sets you up for failure. And I say this having been divorced before...so I don't have my head in the sand.

Posted by: momof4 | June 14, 2006 12:32 PM

Those who are sure that their spouses are equally committed to their marriage should check out Terry Martin Hekker. She wrote a famous Op Ed article in the 1970's for the NY Times validating the choice to be a stay at home mom, which was eventually parlayed into a book. She was stunned when her husband left her on their 40th wedding anniversary. Her alimony payment was limited to four years and was so small that she qualified for food stamps. She struggled for years and the divorce judge suggested she go for job training at the age of 67. She still supports the idea of marriage and children, but now advocates that women have a back-up plan so they can support themselves in the case of an unforeseen divorce.

Posted by: M | June 14, 2006 12:32 PM

It's not the post-nup so much as the conversation about "what do we do if" that's important.

Post-nups won't help you in case of death (I speak from experience); what you need in that case is a will or to take advantage of survivor laws for spouses (VA has them). I'm working toward remarriage now. Since we're planning for my wife to spend a couple of years at home with the kids when we have them, we have had to have serious discussions about how this will affect her career, how we're going to help her reenter the job market when the time is right, and how neither of us will be leaving the kids in the lurch if anything does happen to us. We don't have specific dollar amounts--too many variables--but we do have that understanding because we have had these conversations. We could still argue over those specifics, but we've argued in the past and I think we could both be fair about this, even when angry, especially when the kids are at stake.

I think it helps that both of us have been married or in serious long-term relationships before and are very serious about the commitment we're making.

Posted by: 2nd timer | June 14, 2006 12:47 PM

"Did I tell you all that today is my work-at-home day, which to me is synonamous to "sex-at-the-office" day. Oh, and it looks like it's time for lunch. WooHoo! I'll check in after the nap."

Haha, make sure you write up your contract of who does what before lunch!

Posted by: scarry | June 14, 2006 12:58 PM

A friend of the family had a neat thing, where they knew who would get what, down to the stick of furniture if they got divorced. Both of them would have lost so much that it forced them to work through all of their issues. Sometimes knowing how it will end is better to keep people together.

Posted by: ljb | June 14, 2006 1:16 PM

My aunt got pregnant at age 40 and decided to have the baby, so she and her boyfriend (age 47) got married. My aunt had worked since she was 16 and when they met she was a professional woman with a graduate degree and money in the bank. Her husband was a professional with good savings also. After my aunt had her baby, she didn't go back to work for 10 years, a real surprise to her husband. Apparently he assumed she would stay home a couple of years and return to her career. She had no intention of doing so, was "burned out", but never told him. His career dried up and his earnings dropped, and still she didn't return to her lucrative field. He switched careers and used up all his savings, while she sat on her money and expected him to "support" her. My aunt returned to work only to build her own savings as she planned to leave her husband. They are still married but only barely and only because my aunt doesn't want to deal with custody situation and loss of his financial support.

Definitely a couple that should have had a serious conversation, but how would a postnup have worked here? In this case, I really feel that my "uncle" was taken advantage of and my aunt chose to limit her earnings of her own free will.

Posted by: Leela | June 14, 2006 1:17 PM

Having married someone for love whom I later divorced for good reason (he was physically abusing me), I have a hard time with people being so harsh (not to mention naive) about staying married -- sort of a "tough luck" attitude. Unless you've been through a divorce, you can't know how arbitrary and at times unfair the divorce laws and judges in our country can be, to both men and women. And often the party with deeper pockets has an unfair advantage. Divorce does strange things to people -- that same person who seemed so civilized during the marriage can turn cruel and vindictive during a divorce. A prenup or postnup can protect you in case of divorce -- and can give you the peace of mind you need to focus on creating a good marriage and raising kids. If your spouse isn't willing to discuss a prenup or postnup, chances are they may be the type to look out only for themselves in a divorce. And sometimes just talking about finances, being fair and valuing each other's contributions can go a long way, even if you decide not to sign an agreement.

Posted by: Leslie | June 14, 2006 1:18 PM

I just want to emphasize what was said above re how people can see things from quite different perspectives without even knowing it. Many times, people make assumptions about what other people are thinking--in and outside of marriage and in contexts having nothing to do with marriage.

I also agree that things can shift over time. Think not only of your spouses but also other people you've known over the years. I'm sure there are people you've been very close to in the past, but no longer are even in touch with.

A college friendship is not the same as a marriage, but sometimes people grow apart even when nothing dramatic, such as an affair, happens. Of course, people should do whatever they can to make their marriages work because they've made a life commitment, whether they have children or not.

To give a personal example, my sister and her husband of 30 years are moving toward divorce. Their marriage has been, effectively, over for a long time, but no one could have seen this coming when they got married. They were young, attractive, and appeared to have a great life ahead of them. Both sets of parents were happy about the marriage, and they'd been together for them and others to feel that they really knew each other well.

But, over the course of time, they simply changed in different directions. Neither of them are bad people. If I were to be critical of this situation, I'd be as critical of my sister as my brother-in-law.

Could they have saved their marriage if they'd tried harder? Maybe, but I'm not sure. In any case, they didn't. So now the best they and, sadly, their daughter can hope for is to get out and to get on without adding to the pain they all feel. I hope they succeed.

Posted by: THS | June 14, 2006 1:20 PM

The only guaranteed pre-nup/post-nup is education and the ability to work and earn an income necessary to support your family if you must. I have little sympathy for women (or men) who knowingly put themselves at risk "for the sake of the children". As for divorce, I agree that everything earned during the marriage belongs to both and should be split. As for alimony, SAHMs who claim they are exercising their "choice" to stay home - this choice is yours due to the hard work of the "feminists" who demanded that women be allowed to work or stay home, depending on their choice. But along with that choice is the consequence that if you pull yourself out of the workforce and don't maintain your education and skills, then you will suffer if your onoing income source disappears. Unless you are married to an ogre, no one forced you to stay home and give up your career. Now that the marriage has ended, you need to go back to work rather than rely on ex-spouse to continue supporting you. (Child support is a completely different story although I agree that if SAHM gets credit financially for all she did at home, WOHD gets equal credit when custody of the kids becomes an issue).

Posted by: lc | June 14, 2006 1:27 PM

My husband and I divorced after 20 years of marriage. I had stayed home with the children most of those years. He worked, traveled and ultimately became involved with "someone who understands me" who was also his coworker and much younger. Things became very ugly when he said he had supported me all these years and he was in no way supporting me any longer. A post-nup would have been very helpful in this instance. As it turned out alimony, child support were a mere pittance of a six digit salary yet it was like squeezing blood from a stone. There is further fury over half a retirement plan being "given to the ex". He would not be where he is today had he not had someone (me) holding down the home fort to enable him to climb the corporate ladder without worry.

Posted by: been there | June 14, 2006 1:29 PM

We have car insurance, home insurance, health insurance, life insurance, etc.

It only makes sense that we have marriage insurance. You can't predict anything in life.

And, by the way, I'm happily married and so are both of my parents and my husband's parents (each for 31 years).

Posted by: Stella | June 14, 2006 1:30 PM

I'm intrigued by comments about SAHMs who can't really afford to stay home. I couldn't afford to either. So we sold our house and bought a small one that cost half as much ($85,000, in an unpretigious location). Then we could afford it.

Posted by: M | June 14, 2006 1:37 PM

I have mixed feelings about this. First, I think if you become the spouse that stays home its your responsibility to keep your skills fresh -- my Mother in law's husband passed away at age 48 and left no insurance so she went back to work and had to sell their house. The more education/skills you have the better off you are. I'm not really big on the post nup issue. I have friends who stay home now and many of them are totally focused on their kids and nothing else. A computer class or two wouldn't hurt. I worry about them if their husbands leave them what would happen to their cost of living.
With regards to a pre-nup, my favorite musician Paul McCartney is a romantic and went into his second marriage saying hey we love each other and we don't need a prenup -- what a guy -- a savvy businessman but blinded by love and now his wife of only 4 years could get 1/2 of his fortune, which he probably had before he even met her.

There are no right answers on this one.

Posted by: typical working mother | June 14, 2006 1:38 PM

"But along with that choice is the consequence that if you pull yourself out of the workforce and don't maintain your education and skills, then you will suffer if your onoing income source disappears. Unless you are married to an ogre, no one forced you to stay home and give up your career."

I think what comments like this are missing is that when one person stays home, they are supporting not only the children but often the other person's career. I have seen studies to the effect that almost all high-level corporate execs have a spouse who primarily supports the exec in his career; this has been cited as one reason women have trouble breaking into the highest echelons - they are less likely to have a husband playing the same role that the wives of other executives play. I certainly saw that play out in my own family, where my mother did an enormous amount of (unpaid) work in support of my dad's career - he simply would not have been as successful as he was without her help. She did that work instead of pursuing her own career in the interests of our family; when my dad divorced her much of the benefit of that work was lost to all of us, but especially to her. I think the point of post-nups and forms of support after divorce is to take that contribution into account.

Posted by: Megan | June 14, 2006 1:44 PM

"But along with that choice is the consequence that if you pull yourself out of the workforce and don't maintain your education and skills, then you will suffer if your onoing income source disappears."

It's time women who claim to be feminists dropped the idea of being "supported" by their husbands. If the couple chooses this route, there SHOULD be a contract stating that the husband will provide so much financially in return for the wife's work toward raising the children and supporting the husband by keeping a good home and promoting his business or professional interests.

Wives who stay home and don't make any attempt to provide for their own future by studying, doing part-time work, or keeping up with their field are fools in today's world. Gone are the days when a woman couldn't enter a career, but gone also are the days when a woman can expect to be the "light in the home" and have her husband take care of her for life.

Posted by: Mary J. | June 14, 2006 1:44 PM

All those who point out the contribution of the SAHS to the earnings of the working spouse are dead right.

As I said, I was married, then widowed. I am female and an executive. After my spouse's death, I was working only with men, all of whom had SAHSs. Funny how they could not understand why I was grocery shopping late at night or why I had no time to wash my car. I didn't have the support they did. It's a heck of a lot easier to put in those long hours when you've got a spouse supporting you.

Posted by: 2nd timer | June 14, 2006 1:49 PM

At least Paul McCartney can afford to give away (or have taken away) half of his wealth. (Although I feel a bit sorry for his kids who stand to inherit.)Prenups are a good idea when there is a discrepancy of wealth between the two parties. Postnup? Probably a good idea, too, if only to clarify the "value" of each partner's contribution to the marriage.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 1:50 PM

M wrote "I couldn't afford to either. So we sold our house and bought a small one that cost half as much ($85,000, in an unpretigious location). Then we could afford it."

Actually you COULD afford it - you did it. I could afford it if I were willing to live in a low-rent, high-crime neighborhood without health insurance. My husband could afford to stay home if we lived in a low-rent, high-crime neighborhood (with health insurance). Neither one of us believes that the benefit of the parent being home outweighs the disadvantage of unsafe neighborhoods with bad schools and possible lack of health insurance.

A lot depends on your financial situation before the kids arrive, the amount of support you get from family, the salary and job security of the working parent. I know people whose parents gave them the down payment to their house as a wedding present and others who paid for their own weddings and started their marriages in rented apartments who had to save every last penny of the down payment for their homes. Also, not too long ago, this "creative" home financing didn't exist and people had to have a full 20% to get a house. It's a little hard to sell your house and move to a cheaper one if you don't yet have one to sell.

Also, you can't compare what you did with other people unless you think that everyone has the same income and benefits as your husband and the same expenses.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 1:54 PM

"Wives who stay home and don't make any attempt to provide for their own future by studying, doing part-time work, or keeping up with their field are fools in today's world."

I agree. They are also in danger of being left for another (more interesting) woman when the children grow up and leave the house. If all you offer is taking care of the kids and cleaning the house, that can be easily replaced. It's a shame how having children can take the focus off of a marriage...when the kids leave, you have nothing left.

Posted by: Point of View | June 14, 2006 1:54 PM

What a great idea. The biggest thing I have been toiling with about quitting my successful job to stay at home is the loss of power that gives me in my relationship and the financial dependence that means I'll have. My biggest reason for working is to protect myself and my 4 children if my spouse dies, gets layed off, or even flakes out and runs off with his secretary.

If my husband and I could quantify what I'd be giving up financially to stay home and I could be assured of not being left in the lurch so to speak, financially anyway, then I would stay home in a heartbeat.

Off to research post-nups........

Posted by: Soon-to-be-SAHM | June 14, 2006 1:54 PM

I think what comments like this are missing is that when one person stays home, they are supporting not only the children but often the other person's career.

Agreed. But isn't the working spouse supporting the SAHS's "career" by making enough money that he/she can stay home and focus on the children, and volunteer at school, church, etc. After divorce why should the working spouse have to continue the support the SAHS "career" when most likely the SAHS will not be required to continue supporting the working spouse's career.

The fact is both spouses support each other (isn't that what SAHS keep vocifeously arguing). One's contribution is not more valuable than the other, just different. If the marriage fails, I think the slate's are even. Split the assets, support the kids, and each party supports themselves going forward.

Posted by: lc | June 14, 2006 1:57 PM

"What a great idea. The biggest thing I have been toiling with about quitting my successful job to stay at home is the loss of power that gives me in my relationship and the financial dependence that means I'll have. My biggest reason for working is to protect myself and my 4 children if my spouse dies, gets layed off, or even flakes out and runs off with his secretary."

I honestly thought this was sarcastic, until I got to the end of the post. If the biggest thing about staying home is "loss of power", then things weren't right from the get go.

I find most of these comments ridiculous. Both contributions (home and work) are equally important. And comments about anything can happen, is an excuse. I am not talking about abusive relationships--there is no reason to stay in those--I am talking about "if one person is miserable" they shouldn't stay. I'm sorry, but the vows I took, weren't "until I fall out of love." Get with it people.

Posted by: child of divorce | June 14, 2006 2:08 PM

"But isn't the working spouse supporting the SAHS's "career" by making enough money that he/she can stay home and focus on the children, and volunteer at school, church, etc. After divorce why should the working spouse have to continue the support the SAHS "career" when most likely the SAHS will not be required to continue supporting the working spouse's career."

Two thoughts on this. One, the SAHS won't be doing the same "career," they'll be re-entering the work force (unless the marital assets were enormous), so post-divorce support plays a slightly different role. Two, even if the SAHS has worked to maintain their contacts and skills, the re-entry period will likely involve time a lower earnings level, which is a result of the time spent supporting the other spouse. Using limited-in-time alimony (ie, a few years after divorce) to give the former SAHS some support while s/he gets back on their feet makes sense to me as a way of compensating the SAHS for that time/lost potential. Long-term or unlimited alimony is I think much harder to justify on those lines. I'm not sure what I think about that issue, I'd be interested to hear from others.

Posted by: Megan | June 14, 2006 2:14 PM

I'm with you "child of". All of the comments about people growing apart or "changing" are really irritating to me. When you marry someone its "for better or worse" people. Anyone expecting to marry someone and have them remain the same person, never changing, for the rest of their lives is really naiive.
That said, i think for women who have careers and then decide to stay at home, there is a "loss of power" associated with that and it needs to be discussed openly with their partner so that both parties understand the shift in the dynamic of the relationship for what it is and don't let it create problems for them. My husband and i do not have children yet, but we have discussed the possibility of me staying home at some point and i have shared with him my anxiety about a "loss of power" and been very honest about it. I really think talking to your spouse honestly about things (even if they make you feel guilty or uncomfortable) is better than some piece of paper denoting your "financial worth." Sometimes "naming the beast" takes away its effectiveness in undermining your relationship.

Posted by: another child of divorce | June 14, 2006 2:17 PM

to momof4: did not generalize. the key words are "stay at home mothers I know" -- you also gave an example of women that you know. And not to slight any SAHD -- a friend on the West Coast works while her husband stayed home with their child. They made a decision that his job does not pay him enough for him to work and them hire a nanny or put a child into a daycare.

To Megan: you are right - this came out not in the way I intended. But I think it's just splitting hairs. Two separate paychecks are deposited monthly into a joint checking. One paycheck goes to cover mortgage, childcare expenses, other while the other is saved.

Finally, on joint/separate accounts. My husband and I lived together for a long time (too long from my family's perspective) until we got married. We had 5 accounts between us: one joint checking, two savings, two separate credit cards, one joint card). After we got married we kept the same for a long time and my parents were after me FOREVER to combine all our accounts, saying that this means lack of committment, etc. I really felt bad about it, questioning my husband's committment to the marriage. So, 16 years later we combined everything. Now my mother is suffering because her husband has gotten stingy with the old age and checking on all of her purchases!

Posted by: a sceptic | June 14, 2006 2:19 PM

LC, I agree. In the long-lost 1950s world, a wife "supported her husband's career" by hosting dinner for the boss and his wife or other colleagues and provided a social world in which he could network with other local careermen. She kept a spotless home and a spotless reputation in the community. She ironed his shirts and mended his pants, usually she did all his clothes shopping to make sure he looked his best. She did everything necessary to take care of the children and businessdad didn't participate much in their day-to-day lives. She did all the grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, scheduling, and transportation arrangements, while the husband took care of the trash and the household maintenance. He had plenty of time to spend at the office because he knew she would pick up the dry cleaning and the pot roast for Sunday dinner.

Most SAHMs do not do all of these things today. They expect the "working" husband to do "his share" such as housecleaning and picking up groceries. But the wives are no longer doing the business entertaining (or participating in the cocktail parties, etc.) that were once required of SAH wives. So how are they exactly supporting their husband's career? Keeping a clean home? Ok, but they want the husband to wash and put away the dishes RIGHT NOW. Picking up dry cleaning and groceries? No, they ask the husband to do that on his way home after a 10-hour workday. Most guys would be happy to pay a housekeeper to do that stuff just so they could relax now and then and not be nagged to "help out" all the time.


Posted by: Loren | June 14, 2006 2:21 PM


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Who did send the antrax letters to Congress?

Where is Osama?

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www.wsws.org
www.takingaim.info
www.onlinejournal.com
otherside123.blogspot.com

Posted by: che | June 14, 2006 2:22 PM

In the past, sometimes there were cases where a young wife (and raised the kids) worked while the huband studied law or medicine or some other advanced-degree profession. I have sympathy for those wives who put their husbands through school only to be divorced once he established a thriving business. (Saw many examples in my small hometown.) Today women are doing the same thing (for live-in boyfriends rather than husbands!) with no thought that maybe they won't reap the benefits of their sacrifice. I've seen guys suddenly find that "things have changed and I want to move out" soon after they get the degree and the good job. Ladies, make a contract and protect yourselves in all situations! Better yet, let the guy support himself through school or the first few career jobs and THEN marry him.

Posted by: Different cases | June 14, 2006 2:27 PM

"Anyone expecting to marry someone and have them remain the same person, never changing, for the rest of their lives is really naiive."

I think so, too, but realistically, by the time you are old enough to understand this, you've probably gotten married. No one can tell how much another person is likely to change or in what ways, but it's a hard concept to teach and basically you learn it by going through your own changes and seeing others do the same. Contracts are ugly but as we see, often very necessary. We all hope and believe that we can trust the person we love, but ultimately, most of us put ourselves first when push comes to shove.

Posted by: Tanger | June 14, 2006 2:32 PM

I have to say that I applaud the idea of the post-nup. I am getting married next year and a pre-nup is an absolute requirement, for many reasons. I have significantly more assets than hubby-to-be. He has children from a previous marriage that he wants to make sure specific portions/percentages of assets are passed onto as well as to define the financial responsibilities for those children. I make significantly more than he does and will for the foreseeable future. My family has assets they would like to pass on to me that they want to stay in the family and be passed onto any grandchildren. Which is why, in addition to the pre-nup, my finances are going to be kept separate as well.

H-t-b and I have spent MANY hours talking about what we want our marriage to be like, have talked over how each of us manages money and our attitudes towards money, as well as our attitudes/thoughts on a host of other subjects. But each of us has a past and we realize that our financial futures, and the financial future of our marriage, are directly impacted by those actions/decisions. And from a strictly financial perspective my future is a rosier one. I have funds in both a 401K and a Roth IRA, I have a MM acct, I have made saving a serious priority over the last several years. He hasn't done the same. So having these discussion and having this agreement lays everything out in B&W, so there can't/won't be any surprises.

I also know the only person I can control is myself. I cannot control his actions and the decisions he may choose to make in the future.

So I look at our pre-nup as way to let him know that while I look at our marriage as forever (my folks have been married for 42 years and my goal is to be married at least that long), I also know I cannot control what goes on in his head. The pre-nup outlines what would happen if he chooses to leave. I too have seen many a couple that seemed so happy on their wedding day reduced to screaming arguments over money and who owes what to whom when one or the other decides it's over.

If we didn't have the pre-nup, a post-nup would definitely be in order. Many posters are talking about the SAHS getting educated, staying educated. I think of these agreements, and the discussions that surround their development to be part of the education process. So many couples do not talk about these types of issues allowing things to fester and simmer below the surface. If even the possibility of having a pre/post-nup in a marriage causes these types of discussions and gets each partners point of view out in the open, how can that be a bad thing?

Posted by: Gen X in Chicago | June 14, 2006 2:32 PM

A really minor correction: Marketplace is produced by "American Public Media", not "American Public Radio". "American Public Media" is the national distribution arm of Minnesota Public Radio.

Posted by: fasolamatt | June 14, 2006 2:35 PM

"Most SAHMs do not do all of these things today. They expect the "working" husband to do "his share" such as housecleaning and picking up groceries."

I agree...when did the term "housewife" become "stay at home MOM or DAD"? There still needs to be a focus on the marriage or else after the kids leave, there will be nothing left. Take care of your marriage first...it's the best gift that you can give your children.

Posted by: Me Again | June 14, 2006 2:37 PM

Gotta endorse 'child of divorce' and 'another child of divorce'. Going through periods of unhappiness is normal. I feel like when you get married you pledge to fix the problems not chuck the whole marriage because "I've changed." Isn't this the whole point of commitment? I don't feel like a particularly old fashioned person, and I know I'm not naive.

(I do leave room for things that are truly irreconcilable [sp?] like abuse and other criminality by one of the spouses. Those should obviously be exceptions -- but those folks have remedies in Civil court in addition to Divorce court, I would expect.)

Posted by: Proud Papa | June 14, 2006 2:42 PM

"Most SAHMs do not do all of these things today. They expect the "working" husband to do "his share" such as housecleaning and picking up groceries. "

Well, I still iron my husband's shirts, so if he occasionally picks up milk, I'm not feeling guilty.

First of all, homes in general are larger today, and there is more "stuff" to take care of. (No, I don't live in a McMansion, and really it's the stuff not the size of our house that becomes an issue, even though I constantly de-clutter).

There are days when I am giving my kids rides and my day is broken into bits and pieces, without much steady time to do one project. (And, no my kids are not into that many activities, but they do have an occasional scout meeting, or work obligation).

My mother did not drive until she was in her early 40s. At that point, she had already stayed at home for over 20 years.

She did not have it easy, as my father traveled quite a bit for his job, but in all honesty, she did not supervise us the way kids are watched today. As a preschooler, I could wander into the woods or over to a friend's house. My four siblings had run of the neighborhood, too.

Today, it just isn't done. You'd be considered neglectful. And, she also didn't worry, as our neighborhood was safe for young kids to play without supervision.

We were raised by/with? benign neglect, in a sense.

So, today's parents have different priorities out of necessity.

Posted by: Kate | June 14, 2006 2:47 PM

LC is correct - unless your husband abuses you, you "chose" to stay home. Whichever poster stated education and continuing to develop your skills is the best pre/postnup there is - they are absolutely correct.

Posted by: Just a thought | June 14, 2006 2:47 PM

"But the wives are no longer doing the business entertaining (or participating in the cocktail parties, etc.) that were once required of SAH wives. "

Yes, they are. That's what my mom did, that's what plenty of other women I know of do, and these types of activities continue to play a vital role in many of the husband's careers.

Posted by: Megan | June 14, 2006 2:48 PM

Of course you 'chose' to stay home. But more likely, you _both_ decided it was best to stay home. If there is a divorce, however, the stay-at-home parent will take the hit financially.

As for crediting the WOH parent when it comes to custody, the difference is that you don't award custody to the parent who deserves it or earned it. You award custody based on the best needs of the children. Certainly WOH parents shouldn't be penalized for working, but it often makes sense for children to remain living with the parent who has been providing the majority of their care.

I think it's astounding how many people don't even acknowledge the wisdom of thinking that a divorce may (emphasize may) occur. And, apparently, if there is ultimately a divorce, the spouses should have known it from the beginning. That is so amazingly naive to me.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 2:53 PM

"You award custody based on the best needs of the children."

You certainly do, and again and again, reputable, peer-reviewed studies have shown that children need BOTH their parents and do better by far under joint custody.

Posted by: Lizzie | June 14, 2006 2:58 PM

I talked to my wife after I woke up from my nap about who gets what in case of a divorce. I insisted that she gets everything, including the 4 pipsqueaks. I'm pretty sure that the "You Manage the Brats All By Yourself 24-7" threat will keep our marriage going for the next decade or so.

Posted by: Father of 4 | June 14, 2006 3:01 PM

Hooray for you Gen X! It sounds like you and your h-t-b have a healthy view of the marriage contract and what to expect from a lifelong (you hope) relationship. I wish my best friend had had this discussion with her husband before they ran through all of her 401(k) and savings to pay for credit card bills he racked up charging things for his daughter's extravagant ($50,000) wedding. After my friend showed him that they could only afford to spend $5,000, and he agreed, her husband put about $20,000 in charges on his cards out of guilt, and my friend used all her savings to help their disabled child, since her husband had all that debt. Being a second marriage for him, with his previous children, I wish they had had some sort of agreement about how much more he planned to support his own grown children (after paying full college tuition) and how much he planned to support his new infant child.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 3:14 PM

"a divorce MAY happen"

That is presented like "an earthquake MAY happen". A divorce is not something that just happens. 2 parties are involved. And I think a lot of it is self absorbed people thinking of what they WANT at that moment. Not taking into account the fact that they vowed to do otherwise. Feelings aren't everything. And it takes more than love to have a joyful marriage, ie sacrifice, dedication, flexibility, understanding, and communication, etc. It all comes down to choices.

This is not to say that there are some spouses who get blindsided by the others actions. That is not fair and there's no easy answer for that.

I say, get an education, both people. If one stays home, don't look at it like LOST time in the workforce. If you and your spouse decided to stay home, then that is what you are doing. If you are constantly comparing yourself to where you would be if you weren't at home then how can you enjoy being at home in the first place. That's like saying, how much more money would I have made had I become a lawyer instead of a teacher??? Well you're not a lawyer, you're a teacher, for crying out loud.

Posted by: child of divorce | June 14, 2006 3:26 PM

Why is concept of having a written contract have to be seen as a sign of mistrust. To me, it is just a sighn that you have discussed the issue, and are in agreement about what will happen under a certain set of circumstances. It shows a meeting of the minds, and that is a good thing. In business, I would never into a contract with a party I did not trust or suspected would cheat me. But I would always have a contract to make sure we both understood what we were getting into. Contracts are good ideas in life, and marriage is too important to go into without a "meeting of the minds."

Posted by: rockville | June 14, 2006 3:31 PM

to child of divorce:

I sympathize with your pain, but your focus on keeping couples married unless there's physical abuse is narrow minded. My parents stayed married because their religious views did not allow divorce. They were miserable together. The house was always tense. We always waited for the next blow up. We felt guilty that we caused their misery. I would much rather have dealt with the divorce when I was 8 or 10 than the ongoing misery until I was 18 and could move away. Your experience does not dictate what is right for everybody. Sometimes divorce, as horrible as it is, may in fact be what is best for everyone involved.

Posted by: child of an unhappy marriage | June 14, 2006 3:33 PM

to unhappy:

what I am curious about is, what brought them to such misery???? That is where the choices I am talking about are made, either for the good of the relationship or not.

I am sorry your parents were unhappy. Mine are much better off now as well, but I think if they were less selfish early on in their relationship, all of our lives would have been different.

Posted by: child of divorce | June 14, 2006 3:35 PM

And we wonder why financial security, debt, and long term goals are so difficult for people?

We keep teaching them that we should value romance over security, that to plan cautiously for the future means you lack trust and devotion.

Hogwash. Making things out in black and white forces everyone to seriously take stock of their situation and plan objectively for the future.

What could be wrong with that?

Should we tell people not to worry about what their vows actually say either? That if they have to think about their vows then they really don't trust eachother and are just looking for a safety net later on?

If a married couple can't even agree on something like this, there are bigger problems than financial disparities.

Posted by: Liz | June 14, 2006 3:37 PM

Vows aren't just some romantic notion.

Posted by: child of divorce | June 14, 2006 3:41 PM

To child of divorce,

Maybe things could have been different had they made different choices early on. But once they are in that situation, it's water under the bridge. I'ts hard to look back and see particular choices that led them to where they are now, it seems to have been more of a slow building process. My guess is that a lot of peopel don't realize what's happening until it's too late, and telling them then that they shouldn't divorce isn't helpful.

Posted by: Megan | June 14, 2006 3:42 PM

i have to laugh at those of you who think that taking a class will help whoever is reentering the workforce. maybe this will help outside of the IT field but most jobs want people with experience. i tried to update my computer skills by taking a newer programming language class only to be told that, never mind i had 5 years programming in the old language, the fact that i had zero years as in the newer language meant that i had no experience. so much for the class.

Posted by: quark | June 14, 2006 3:43 PM

I'm not gonna lie....I like cheese. A lot.

Posted by: well... | June 14, 2006 3:46 PM

To those that say having a prenup or postnup in place means that there is no trust in the relationship, my question is this. If a contract implies a lack of trust, then why get married at all. After all, a marriage and its vows are a written contract, that is made orally and then signed. A marriage is a contract. It is not all about love and roses. A vow states that you will be married until death do you part, in sickness, health, forsaking all others yadda yadda yadda, and the rest of it. Why not include in that contract the particulars of how that is supposed to happen, so that all parties know what to expect. If a prenup makes the marriage a business arrangement, why bother with the whole marriage thing? If putting it in writing makes it so wrong, why not just shack up and live together on oral promises? Why the need for the paperwork and getting a license and signing the marriage contract at all?

Posted by: rockville | June 14, 2006 3:58 PM

Interesting tactic, Father of 4, I'll keep that in mind! Though I do know one woman who said things were easier after the divorce, since she did everything for the kids while they were married anyway, but now her husband HAS to take them every other weekend and she can sleep...

By the way, I didn't write that last post that is attributed to me, so I don't know what is up with that.

Posted by: Megan | June 14, 2006 3:58 PM

With all these people planning for divorces before problems pop up, no wonder the divorce rate is so high in this country. Shouldn't people go into the marriage trying to make it work instead of making sure they have a backup plan if they don't? They're called wedding VOWS for a reason. Maybe I'm just old fashioned.

Posted by: Brandon | June 14, 2006 4:07 PM

I'm not old, just 50's. But I am baffled by the whole pre & post nup concept. Years ago, I started telling my husband(kiddingly, folks!): "I don't believe in divorce. I believe in murder. Who wants half when they can have it all?"

Posted by: granny | June 14, 2006 4:09 PM

This really shocked me. I cannot imagine choosing to create a plan for divorce as a necessary step in becoming a stay at home mom. This seems like an invitation or even an encouragment to fail at marriage. If you feel the marriage is so unstable, then perhaps yielding your career for your family's needs is not the right choice for you.

But then, I think maintaining separate finances, and prenuptial agreements, and the notion of a "trial" at marriage through living together is also just setting yourself up for a breakup.

Posted by: FairfaxWorkingMom | June 14, 2006 4:14 PM

Thanks FairfaxWorkingMom.
So what you are saying is that you wouldn't do it. We got that. Thanks for the input.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 4:20 PM

Re: "... I had noticed that most of the stay at home mothers I know are the ones whose income would have been spent on nanny/daycare so it really made no financial sense for them to work. The ones who remain in the black after paying for childcare continue to work." by a sceptic:

I made twice what my husband did, and still recently left the workforce (after some hard choices about moving to a less expensive locale). I did this because I saw that our family was financially well off, but strapped for time, all the time. It was wearing us out, giving us too little time with our son and each other, and down the road, I saw that this could harm or even kill our marriage. So I quit, we moved, hubby got a slightly better paying job. My marriage and family come before my job, ego, material wants, etc.

As my wise husband often says, its just money, there will be plenty of time to make more.

Posted by: IndyMom | June 14, 2006 4:20 PM

oooooh! I just remembered a funny, true-story article I read many years ago in a woman's mag. It was one of those "Can this marriage be saved?" type things.

The young wife had worked to put her young husband through med school. He became a doctor. Soon after, they had a planned baby, and the wife stayed home. The baby cried a lot at night. The doc suddenly announced he had "fallen in love" with a hot, younger nurse and moved out to live with her.

The wife mulled over her options and told him: "Sure. You can have a divorce. But you'll have to take the baby since I can't afford to stay home with her."

One week later he moved back home. His mistress didn't love him THAT MUCH. Haha

Posted by: granny | June 14, 2006 4:26 PM

EEESH! What a HORRIBLE idea- these postnuptial agreements. Save the money on the lawyers fees to draft the thing and get your behinds to a marital counselor instead. If you're thinking about postnups then you and your spouse could could the professional help.

Posted by: Gerd Topsnic | June 14, 2006 4:34 PM

Another thing all prenups and postnups should include. A clause stating that the person who wants out also has to take the kids. Now THAT'll prevent a lot of divorces for sure.

Posted by: Rockville | June 14, 2006 4:42 PM

While it's touching that so many people demand to know where "till death do us part" went, the fact is that about half of marriages end in divorce, and plenty of those divorces are nasty. Delightful former spouses change when money is involved. Shouting that people should avoid prenups and postnups because it gives them the "easy way out" if they ever run into marital troubles is akin, in my mind, to saying that we shouldn't vaccinate our daughters against HPV (the virus that's responsible for cervical cancer, and thousands of deaths every year) because it'll make it "easier" for them to be promiscuous.

After all, all the people in the fifty percent of marriages ending in divorce "should have known better than to marry someone who would end up treating them that way," and all the grown wives, mothers and women who die of cervical cancer "should have known better than to have sex, or raise children, or consummate the marriage with someone who would infect them with a death sentence." (Half of women diagnosed with cervical cancer are ages 35-55, and another fifth are over 65.)

Of course, you would have known better, because you never make a mistake!

Oh, please. Infidelity has always been rampant. Women in societies where divorce is rare still get deadly or painful STDs from philandering husbands and are still abandoned to raise children on little or no income (hello? Sierra Leone? Mozambique? Iran? India? China? AIDS, poverty, death?). They don't get divorced, but they lie in bed with husbands who infect them with AIDS caught from visiting prostitutes, or they lie alone in bed once he leaves. Young Victorian wives in England were once upon a time delivered to husbands who not infrequently infected them with syphilis (Cupid's disease).

In Western society, the stay-at-home spouse must deal with inequity of income and the fact that the other may choose to leave, or to be unfaithful (and perhaps to infect the other with an STD). It is downright irresponsible, particularly if you have children, to pretend that you're certain that your marriage will never break up and that the custodial parent and children will not suffer financially as a result. It is terrible to have to stay in an emotionally or physically abusive marriage, particularly if children are involved, because one spouse is financially incapable of leaving. And if the primary earner decides to just walk away for more prosaic reasons -- the sex is boring, the "spark" ain't there anymore, he/she is having a midlife crisis and needs to find himself/herself -- sometimes there will be a spouse left behind in financial ruin, because he/she gave up his/her best earning years to raise the children and work in the home.

People do change. The husband or wife you marry is not always the husband or wife who divorces you. Marriages do break up -- that's a fact. It happens to even the best of us. If prenups and postnups became automatic, assumed parts of the marriage process, eventually no one would give it a second thought -- and maybe some marriages would even be saved, because one more source of tension would have been removed. Let's not pretend that the nebulous, romantic sanctity of marriage is damaged by practical thinking. If you have it, a prenup/postnup won't hurt it, and if you don't have it, a prenup/postnup may save you.

Posted by: pragmatism | June 14, 2006 4:46 PM

Just an observation...but it seems that the most outspoken opponents of pre-nups and post-nups are men...though some women have weighed in against it as well.

Bottom line: if you don't protect yourself, you face the consequences. One person cannot save a marriage if the other person is determined to end it. Far too many women have become trapped in abusive marriages because they cannot financially support themselves and multiple children. I guess some folks here call this "working out marital problems." I call it intolerable.

Granny, I enjoy your observations and love your sense of humor. In the '60s, my mom had a neighbor whose husband left her and their three sons for another woman. She dropped the boys off for visitation with their dad and his new wife. Mom never returned, and left her ex-husband to raise the boys. The new wife divorced the husband within a year.

Posted by: single western mom | June 14, 2006 4:49 PM

Pragmatism,
I like the way you think. You are soooo right about all of your points.

Posted by: Rockville | June 14, 2006 4:51 PM

Don't we already have marriage/divorce laws in this country? How do all these custom-worded pre & post nups hold up in court? Will only people who have these documents get justice? I'm asking.

Posted by: granny | June 14, 2006 4:52 PM

Good question, Granny,
Any lawyers here who care to address this?

Posted by: Rockville | June 14, 2006 4:57 PM

can all of those people who see a pre-nup or a post-nup as a "plan to fail" please tell me exactly why/how you see it that way? i guess i'm just confused. since when does talking about a possibility make it a reality?

Posted by: quark | June 14, 2006 5:03 PM

I'm sure that someone else will do a much better job at this (there do seem to be a lot of us lawyers on this blog), but here's a few things I remember from family law. First, and foremost, there are almost never enough assets to go around. It costs much more to support two households than one, so usually both spouses experience end up in a worse position financially (especially after they pay their lawyers). Second, in some states marital property has to be divided equally, in some states it has to be divided equitably. In the latter case, the judge may have a lot of discretion in deciding what is equitable, which may end up being unfair to one of the parties. Third, even where the marital property is divided equally, there is a lot of manuevering in the definition of "marital property" - some things that both spouses counted on in their financial planning may end up being counted as individual property and thus not be subject to division on divorce. So, the system is imperfect to say the least.

Pre-nups are enforcable, but it must be shown that both parties had full knowledge of the spouse's assets, and that it wasn't signed under duress, and there are other requirements (I think in some states the court will review it for reasonableness; it can't be against public policy, stuff like that). When my dad got married the second time, they had a pre-nup and also did a marital agreement after they married when they aquired a condo together. They were both thrown out because there was no listing of assets in the agreement and my dad couldn't prove that his wife had full knowledge when she signed the agreement (even though the prenup had been her idea to protect her assets!). So, you never really know. If you are going to do one of these, make sure you get recommendations and check references on your attorney.

Posted by: Megan | June 14, 2006 5:29 PM

To Gen X in Chicago -- You are so right that the only person in life you can control is yourself. Sometimes a spouse changes -- and not just in small ways. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst!

And one reason it's easy for some to romanticize the good old days when women were supposedly happier staying home and caring for their husbands and children and rarely getting divorced is that it has only been recently that women have spoken out and written about their experiences of marriage and motherhood. We don't know what it was really like for women in these "good old days" because we have very few books or other records of what their daily lives were like -- and how they felt about their lack of choices in marriage, motherhood and careers. Men controlled what was written -- newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, television scripts. Women's voices were extremely limited and we can't just assume they were happy -- or unhappy. A lot of the story is missing.

Posted by: Leslie | June 14, 2006 5:32 PM

Reading this after the "autism mom" entries makes me think that she would have probably liked a post-nup. Her life will never be the same again although his (somewhat) will...

Posted by: Robin | June 14, 2006 5:35 PM

I look at it this way:
You get life insurance because you WILL die. It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why.

You get health insurance because you WILL get sick.It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why.

You get long-term care insurance because you WILL grow old.It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why.

So, everyone looking at a pre- or post-nup just as means of insurance, what does that say about the life commitment you are about to make to another person. What does that say about what you think of them and yourself?

It's been said many times but if you are worried that this person will scam you, abuse you, or take advantage of you when you need them most why are you marrying them?

Posted by: NFNWWM | June 14, 2006 6:24 PM

I look at it this way:
You get life insurance because you WILL die. It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why.

You get health insurance because you WILL get sick.It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why.

You get long-term care insurance because you WILL grow old.It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why.

So, everyone looking at a pre- or post-nup just as means of insurance, what does that say about the life commitment you are about to make to another person. What does that say about what you think of them and yourself?

It's been said many times but if you are worried that this person will scam you, abuse you, or take advantage of you when you need them most why are you marrying them?

Posted by: NFNWWM | June 14, 2006 6:24 PM

Sorry to post twice!

Posted by: NFNWWM | June 14, 2006 6:26 PM

"You get health insurance because you WILL get sick. It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why."

False comparison. Most people have health insurance not as a hedge against having to go to the doctor because they have the flu, but as a hedge against having to cough up $40K for chemotherapy if they get liver cancer, which obviously does not happen to everyone. The most serious condition I've ever had was a raging sinus infection. My sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 18. Both of us have health insurance; I am unlikely to need it as much as she does, but I still keep it in case I am diagnosed with something expensive.

Pre- and post-nups are similar. Not that I think they're a good idea (unless there are children from a previous marriage whose financial interests need protection); I think that everyone should be responsible for being able to support themselves regardless of what happens to the marriage.

Posted by: Lizzie | June 14, 2006 6:55 PM

And this:

"You get long-term care insurance because you WILL grow old. It is just a matter of how, when, where, and why."

Geez, does everyone get this guarantee? The way my sister's health has been, no one could blame her if she didn't get long-term care insurance. Diagnosed with three cancers before the age of 30, she could be forgiven for thinking that actually, she WON'T get old. You do it because it's the responsible thing and it would pose an unacceptable financial burden to your family if you remain uninsured, not because you've got some gold-plated guarantee that you're going to live to a ripe old age.

Posted by: Lizzie | June 14, 2006 6:57 PM

The way I figure it, I love my wife and family so much, I would rather die than get divorced.

Posted by: Father of 4 | June 14, 2006 7:08 PM

Also, you don't get life insurance because you WILL die. You get it to replace your income because you MIGHT die during your working years. If you are likely to die during the term of the insurance contract, you will be denied coverage.

Posted by: x | June 14, 2006 7:18 PM

The more I read "on balance", the more I think: just don't get married, don't even date- this is not aimed at men or women at all- it's just after reading about all the issues over the past couple of weeks here leads me to feel that marriage and kids must be 10X harder than my job (which I actually love) and potentially a bitter disapointment

Posted by: Daniel | June 14, 2006 7:19 PM

People don't plan/expect disability or Accidental Death and Dismemberment. Yet, they purchase this type of insurance.

I am curious whether those who as so against post-nups are also the ones who rail that stay-at-parents who are financially hit when the spouse leaves should have planned better. The type of person who is always judging everyone else's decision - because they don't make mistakes.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 7:23 PM

"One stay-at-home mom e-mailed me about her plan to work at Starbuck's and rent a cheap apartment in a good school district if her husband left her."

I have to say I found this quote to be so interesting and naive, I'm afraid.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 7:30 PM

We Americans feel that choosing a prenups signals a lack of faith in one's partner but what if prenups were made compulsory? My husband is Belgian. In Belgium couples must choose one of several prenups before getting married. If a couple refuses to do so the government arbitrarily makes the choice, which will be legally binding in the event of a divorce.

At first I was horrified by the thought of signing a prenup because I had a strict Baptist upbringing. Now I think compulsory prenups are a good idea. They would save so much of divorcing couples' assets from lawyers by forcing them to work out terms amicably well in advance. If the state, not a partner, were to require a prenup so much of the social stigma would disappear.

Posted by: Denkpaard | June 14, 2006 7:41 PM

"The more I read "on balance", the more I think: just don't get married, don't even date- this is not aimed at men or women at all- it's just after reading about all the issues over the past couple of weeks here leads me to feel that marriage and kids must be 10X harder than my job (which I actually love) and potentially a bitter disapointment"

I don't know - my marriage has its ups and downs but I really have enjoyed a lot of things in it - together my husband and I were able to afford a nicer house than we could singly; we worked to fix it up together (I'm really good at starting projects, which he procrastinates on... I suck at finishing them, which he enjoys doing meticulously).

Plus we know each other inside out and can make each other laugh with just a look across a party. That usually is followed by the universal married persons signal for "get me out of this party and let's go home and have a good old roll in the hay."

To relate this to the post-nup discussion, I think the reality of post-divorce poverty is really terrible - everyone loses, financially, for the most part. And if someone wants to protect their assets, or is nervous about the years they're giving to parenting out of the workforce - well go for it.

But the truth is that you can't quantify everything someone puts into a marriage as money. You can quantify even /less/ everything you put into your kids.

"Balancing" is not just about making ledger lines come out equally at the end of the day - it's about putting time and energy into what's important. You may be able to make assets come out equally, but you can't make different people with different talents and yes, different genders, contribute the same.

Productivity is for the /workplace/; families are about something else. Hopefully a lot of love and fun mixed in with commitment and work.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 8:00 PM

If you want to compare pre/post-nups to insurance, then car insurance might be a better comparison. I recognize that, unlike life or health insurance, car insurance is required by the state, it is hedging against getting in a bad accident or needing extensive repairs -- stuff that might, but will not necessarily, happen. Given this, perhaps pre- and/or post-nups should be mandatory to endure all couples have discussed their assets and what should happen if things go wrong ahead of time.

More to the point, though, as several posters have noted, the concept of marriage as a contract is long indeed. The formal ceremony (in both Jewish and Christian traditions) is that of a legally binding oath. Historically, marriage has more often taken place to assure the "right" transfer of wealth than out of love. It was not until the Victorian period that marriage for romantic reasons came about. All pre- and post-nups do is recognize that marriage is a legal contract and, as such, all aspects of the contractual relationship should be outlined ahead of time. For more information on the history of marriage and the way in which it has shifted from a financially beneficial arrangement (primarily between men, the groom to be and the betrothed's father) see Stephanie Coontz's book, Marriage: A History. For more information about the evolution of marriage and the state in America, see Nancy Cott's book, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the State.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 8:08 PM

I don't mean to go too far off topic, but I wonder if this isn't a sign of something larger?

Jacob Hacker at Yale has been writing about middle-class American families today feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under them, and other wonks here in DC are confirming that it really takes two incomes to stay slightly ahead of the game-and do better by our kids.

Perhaps all this anxiety is not about our marriages, but about where we find ourselves collectively -- the insecurity of jobs, of health insurance- the anxiety of paying for good child care, or good schools, or good colleges for our kids.

Maybe instead of directing all of this anxiety toward our spouses, we should be looking for a little reassurance elsewhere -- perhaps, a real working families agenda that calls for both individual supports(tax free savings accounts, social security credits for stay-at-home parents) as well as collective solutions (access to health insurance for all, for example, and I could expand on this category for a while).

In trying to stop this "fear of falling" to borrow Gene Sperling's phrase, maybe we need a new social contract that actually helps protect all families from some of life's uncertainties.

Posted by: not just any soccer mom | June 14, 2006 8:58 PM

I wonder how the details are calculated regarding loss of earning power. It seems that everyone who starts a career has the potential for a certain amount of earnings, but not everyone actually achieves that potential. There are teachers who teach forever, and those who move on to administrative positions in the school system.. There are lawyers who become high priced and those who work for legal aid. There are hair stylists at neighborhood shops and those who work for the Hollywood stars. There are many many workers at high levels who change careers for something they love that is 'simpler' and lower-paying. There are bookkeepers who become accountants. There are bar band singers who win American Idol.

I, myself, had the potential to become many things, career-wise. None of us really know how it will turn out until the end. Follow any group of people hired into a large company for the same position and see where they are 10 years later. Some will be gone, some promoted, some working in a different capacity, and some in the same place.

So since the potential is not the same as the actuality, how can you determine what was really lost when someone stays home? Maybe they would have been lousy at their job and never advanced at all. Look at all the IT people after the dotcom bust. Look at Enron.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 9:07 PM

"At least Paul McCartney can afford to give away (or have taken away) half of his wealth. (Although I feel a bit sorry for his kids who stand to inherit.)"

I think I read once that Paul McCartney does not believe in inherited wealth. From what I remember, he had no plans to leave his fortune to his children. That may have changed since then.

Posted by: Kate | June 14, 2006 9:15 PM

"One stay-at-home mom e-mailed me about her plan to work at Starbuck's and rent a cheap apartment in a good school district if her husband left her."

I have to say I found this quote to be so interesting and naive, I'm afraid."

Well, Starbucks pays benefits for part-timers, and good school districts usually provide a good education, both things a parent taking care of their children will need after a divorce. Makes sense to me.

I think the woman who emailed about this back-up plan at least has good common sense. It doesn't mean it's foolproof, but it's a way of thinking about survival ahead of time.

Usually, the people who feel they have choices survive more easily. It's optimistic, not necessarily naive.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 14, 2006 9:31 PM

Actually, post-nups have been around for a long time. AKA, in a different guise of course, as the "Marital Separation Agreement,"
a critical part of any divorce decree. Look, divorce laws have long included the need to incorporate the sacrifice a particular spouse might make in the marriage. And, this goes into the ultimate financial settlement and any half way decent divorce lawyer has crafted hundereds of them. The post-nup is going for the "over-kill." As an analogy, if its anxiety you've got, just as you won't really get rid of it by just taking Valiums - writing all kinds of agreements back and forth won't work either. You got to get to the real problem and bring some trust back into the marriage. Otherwise, yes do a post-nup now, and file your divorce.

Posted by: Joseph | June 14, 2006 9:36 PM

Someone asked HOW pre/post nups translate to distrust.

Here's my take:

In our house, we don't even speak the word divorce. It's not joked about, because it's not funny. It's just not an option. (We came to this agreement when we first got married--both to stay married and not to speak of divorce.)

We are both sane individuals. If either of us changes, too bad. We are together for better or worse. We both know that and would rather not be miserable, so we work hard at keeping up with one another and connecting on a daily basis.

By the way, I have seen first hand, a marriage that by most standards should have ended before it started, turn into a loving relationship after 30+ years. It's impressive and they are that much happier that they are still together. It takes extraordinary sacrifice sometimes, but can be done.

Posted by: child of divorce | June 15, 2006 8:38 AM

My only comment is that the brutal lack of compassion people have for each other makes me very sad. We are all human. The vast majority of us take responsibility for ourselves and our families and we each do it in a way that someone, somewhere, will disagree with. In particular, I am a WOHM who feels conflicted about not making sacrifices to be at home with my daughter. I have two voices inside my head: one that says the best thing for my family is to stay at home and scrape by with the inability to save money for our retirement, the other that says the best thing is to keep working to help keep all of us afloat financially for the long haul. I am open to hearing many sides of every issue, so the result is that I have to work hard to tune out the angry, judgmental people who have all the answers for everyone. Because apparently, no matter what you choose, there is always someone eager to blame you for the simple fact that life can be difficult.

To the people for whom everything is black and white: you are missing out on and trying to prevent other people from having discussions that weigh all the hard decisions people have to make. Life doesn't boil down to a lecture on responsibility. We're responsible. That's why we think about these things.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 15, 2006 10:15 AM

I'm shocked by some people's disrespectful attitude toward stay at home parents. My husband stays home with our sons. He gave up his career to stay home because we BOTH decided that this was best for our family. I'm the only mother in our office who doesn't have to scramble for childcare when work runs late, who doesn't have to worry if my son gets sick, and who can easily arrange to travel on business trips. You better believe that helps my career!

Of course, I help out with the chores at home. Taking care of children is hard work, and I'm grateful my husband is such a loving father. Of course, I'm going to pitch in around the house. I'm making half the mess and eating half the food. Geez!

The decision we BOTH made for my husband to stay at home, puts him in a more precarious financial situation. While he is home with our kids, he is not gaining valuable employment experience, which would translate to a higher income in the future. Of course, he should be protected financially should we divorce. We BOTH made this decision in the best interest of our family, why should he be financially penalized for that? I just don't get how some people can be so disrespectful of stay at home parents.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 15, 2006 10:49 AM

I would like a post-nup that provides that if I sacrifice time/emotional connection with my children to work more in order for my spouse to stay home, that I will not be penalized in a custody/alimony dispute because my spouse has a "closer relationship" with the kids and "sacrificed more" to stay home.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 15, 2006 12:32 PM

No one ever gets married thinking that sometime in the future that they will split. But like another person said it is always a good idea to be prepared. So if the subject of a prenup comes up I would suggest that both parties draw up their own then present it to their OWN attorney representing them. If there are differences that would be the time to really work things out. If you can't work thing out this early in a relationship you may want to avoid the heartache that is sure to come later. Just an after thought please don't have children if you cant' get over past this issue.

Posted by: Bob | June 15, 2006 12:32 PM

Hypothetical:

Wife makes $150,000 at job with grueling schedule. Husband, who made $150,000 at job with grueling schedule, stays home (joint decision). Divorce. Former-husband takes job with flexible schedule for $75,000, but could take job with grueling schedule for $150,000.

Should former-wife be responsible for support payments given sacrifices former-husband made to stay home? If yes, is she still responsible if she later decides to leave grueling job for better schedule for $75,000?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 15, 2006 12:38 PM

People in love make a very common mistake when they base an aversion to prenups/post-nups on a lack of romance.

Money is a practical matter--not a romantic one. If you can not talk to your financee or spouse about money because it's "not romantic enough", then you have no business getting or staying married to each other because you don't know each other well enough.

I do not believe that pre/post-nups are appropriate for every couple. Nor will a pre/post-nup prevent a nasty divorce. Couples who want to fight will always find something to fight about.

But a pre/post-nup can be very useful in certain circumstances. The examples in the article focus only on one limited circumstance--when one spouse gives up a career to raise the kids. While a post-nup may be useful in such a situation, it depends on the couple and how much each gave up. Where I find them the most useful is when one spouse owns part of a family business or has significant wealth built up prior to the marriage, or in second marriage situations. In these cases, the focus of the discussion is not on protecting the spouses, but on protecting the third parties (other family members, children from a prior marriage, etc.) who really have no control over the situation.

Posted by: jules | June 15, 2006 1:05 PM

I'm with Jules. And in reading over the posts above, I'm struck by how many of them are loaded with FEELINGS (it's not romantic, am I naive, what about trust) instead of THINKING. I think the main reason there are so many divorces is because people just feel, they don't think. If you make the analogy that two people marrying and conducting their lives together is something like two business partners starting a business together --- then it's a no-brainer that of course it makes sense to plan for ANY unhappy ending to the partnership. That includes death of a partner, death of both partners, and the end of the partnership. We all know people who have gotten "the dirty end of the stick" at the end of a marriage. How much better it might have been for that person (and any children) if there was a clear, legal agreement (and they had their own attorney to help work it out) so that they didn't have to watch their life crumble financially as well as emotionally.

Posted by: Peg | June 15, 2006 2:41 PM

Having gotten remarried late in life after having become wealthy, I have to admit that I thought about the idea of a pre-nup; however, when I got right down to it, I dismissed the thought. Why? several reasons came to mind;

1. The vows are supposed to be for life obviating the need for such contracts. Though divorce happens (I should know), there is a certain amount of getting what you fear involved. In this case, if you fear a divorce is going to happen, no pre-nup is going to spare the other pains that go with it.

2. Which comes first, money, or love? Isn't asking for a pre-nup, or God help us a post-nup, implying that you value having your money with you for the long run more than your spouse? If so, should you be getting married in the first place?

3. Make it work. In cases where pre-nups/post-nups are needed, it would seem arguable that money is a motivaator to at least one side. At the same time, all marriages run into rough spots. If money is a motivator, instead of a legal vehicle facilitating a financial departure, let the potential loss of money motivate spouses to hang in there to see if time heals over the rough patches.

Perhaps for the wealthy to whom things come much too easy, there should be a higher level of anxiety associated when entering into it. If you fear losing your wealth for a bad relationship, maybe you should opt out. If more ill prepared people opted out of marriage rather than "giving it a whirl," we would not have such a problem with the institution to begin with.

Posted by: TJG | June 15, 2006 2:53 PM

I usually agree with Michele Singletary, but in this case I think she misses the mark. While it's true that you should seriously examine your future spouse's character and trustworthiness before you decide whether or not to marry them, the fact is that people can and do change, and not always for the better. It would be nice if the courts always worked to divide assets and set child support in a manner that is fair to all involved, but I think we all know it doesn't necessarily work out that way. Nobody should be forced into a prenup, but why shouldn't a couple jointly decide what they think is fair, especially in the case of a second marriage when there are already kids from a previous marriage?

Posted by: Lizzer | June 15, 2006 2:58 PM

"A marriage is the creation of a family, not a business relationship. If you're not confident your spouse would "take care of you" in the event of sickness, injury, or even staying-at-home (or that you would do the same), maybe you shouldn't be marrying in the first place."

Gary, marriage has ALWAYS been a business relationship. In this country, it's only been the past 150-200 years that the "love" concept has become a prerequisite to marriage. Anybody remember arranged marriages? The only person you could marry was someone within the next two counties and given how slim the pickings are in DC, I could imagine how slim it was back then. You made a business decision. Women weren't allowed to hold assets or property. The only thing they held of value was their homemaking skills and their viginity back then.

Pre-nups/post-nups....it's about the equality of power. And if any relationship is about power, it's marriage. I've watched as my step mother in law, who earns less than my father, isn't even allowed to make a decision about what curtains to buy without his approval because it is "his" money. Yes, her money is "his" money too. It makes me sick to my stomach that she has allowed him to have that much control over her and a choice as petty as draperies!!! My own mother didn't fare much better under the circumstances and guess who got everthing? My dad.....while my meek mother, who has never argued with anyone in her life, gave up her dreams of going to college and getting a degree to stay home and raise kids and moved around for 11 years as a military spouse, got $150 for child support. And I guess a judge (and my father)summed up that was what her contribution was to the marriage.

I totally support prenups, Gary, because so many women are left with nothing when the marriage disolves. If the other partner agrees to lose assets if there is a dissolution of the marriage, then at least she knows where she stands. And if the spouse agrees to a prenup where she is left with nothing, at least she can go ahead and make plans to ensure that she is taken care of by finishing her education, putting her little spending money aside for a rainy day, or at least not be so shocked when the marriage that she thought would last forever doesn't leave her with anythings or rights whatsoever. Justice is BLIND, people!

Posted by: tlawrenceva | June 15, 2006 3:10 PM

I know of a woman who was stay-at-home mom for the first ten or so years of her marriage. She then took a job as a teacher's assistant, making well under $60,000 less than her husband. She dreamed of becoming a school teacher, wanting to go back to school to make this possible. He, however, would only agree to finance further education if she would pursue a degree in nursing, a career in which she would make more than in teaching. Eventually, she did start classes in preparation for a teaching career. The vast majority of her education is underwritten by student loans. Two years ago, she discovered that he was having an affair. In spite of her fear that she and her two teenage daughters could not make it financially, she summoned the courage to get a divorce. (The affair is only one of many issues why she decided for the divorce. This man is in every sense a narcissistic jerk.) Because of his refusal to provide the necessary support for his children until she can complete her education and become financially independent, the divorce has dragged out for over a year now. (His lawyer is the type who only gives credence to the truth that some believe underlies the many "lawyer jokes.") A post-nup aggreement may have spared this woman and her daughters some of the emotional toll that this man has inflicted on them. (Yes, they tried marital counseling, after she discovered the affair. For seven months, they were seeing a therapist. Supposedly, he was as committed as she to putting their marraige back together. Later, she discovered that he had continued in the affair throughout the seven months that they had been in counseling.) Now, you tell this woman that she should just keep working to preserve the marraige. Or beter yet, tell her that twenty years ago when she said "for better, for worse" that this bound her to tolerate this kind of behavior from a man who vowed to "forsake all others."

Posted by: Scott | June 20, 2006 2:32 PM

I think there are other reasons to have a prenup, or maybe even a postnup, that most people here are not considering. If the parties marry when both have separate asset bases- homes, cars, interests in family businesses or what have you, there is not only a need to protect the assets in the event of a divorce (a sad thing to contemplate), BUT ALSO the need to protect the assets against legal action.

For example, if my husband and I each owned homes before we were married, and some substantial asset balances, what happens if one of us gets into an accident and gets sued? I'd want to make sure, for the good of our family, that any separate assets are protected from any jury verdict. While this does not address income disparity or eventual disposition of property in the event of divorce, I think it is a valid reason to think hard about having a prenup.

Equally, where one spouse has an interest in a family business and the family wants to protect the integrity of that entity from any and all threat (be it divorce or legal ruling, per above), I think it is entirely reasonable to have a prenup that covers that. It protects the asset for any children from the marriage, and makes clear what happens in the event of some catastrophic occurrence.

Maybe my views are colored by my local laws (Texas is a community property state), but I think a prenup can be a useful tool for the protection of financial assets within a marriage IN ORDER TO ENSURE the continued well-being of both parties while married.

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Posted by: Robin | August 7, 2006 6:34 PM

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