To: Catalyst Reader
From: Lynanne Wolf, Esq. (Fellow Catalyst Reader, Feminist, Truth Seeker, Lover of Love, and Divorce Attorney)
Re: The one item you’re missing on your wedding to-do list: Divorce Planning
Congratulations! You, my darling reader, are getting married, and that is a truly wonderful thing. You have cultivated a relationship based upon mutual respect, and you trust your fiancé with your heart and your future. You love your fiancé and can’t wait to build a life together. You know life will bring you both joy and hardship, but you are choosing to share all the best and the worst of it with your other. And finally, you are eager to memorialize this commitment before family and friends on your wedding day.
First, I want you to know that you deserve to celebrate after months of anticipation and planning. You have considered the carbon footprint your reception will leave, convinced the caterer to special order fair trade coffee to be served with your dessert cart, selected each song on the ultimate wedding playlist that reflects your couple personality and okayed it with the hired local bluegrass band, overcome divisive family politics and managed to avoid a scene by carefully negotiating a seating chart with your future mother-in-law and arranging for a yoga class before the ceremony, and developed a workout regimen for your rescue dog while you’re on your honeymoon in Bali. And in case it rains, or your regular birth control fails you, you have a Plan B. So, tell me, why haven’t you considered how you would move forward if this post-modern romance does not end as you initially contemplated?
Lest you think the work is done, I’m suggesting you add “divorce planning” to your wedding to-do list. Yes, my feminist friends, at a time when we have just scratched the surface of what marriage means, I am asking you to deeply consider its opposite before you even say “I do.” But enough about you and the love of your life and your lovely unconventional wedding, let’s talk about me—at least before you write me off completely as some single, bitter, attorney spinster (with two dogs and a cat no less), who makes a living off of terminating marriages on the daily.
Let me preface with the fact that I cannot take my privilege off and on like some hideous bridesmaid dress no matter how hard I try to understand the blisters caused by some other girl’s heels, and so I will keep it comfortably intact. I am a white, educated, middle-class, heterosexual, cis gender woman. Privilege or no, we each have our own story that makes us uniquely individual. In that respect, I am no different. And while I am many things, being the little girl who dreamed of and planned for her wedding day is not one of them. I have never said it quite this simply, but I am a child of divorce. Then I became a step-child of divorce. The real messy kind of divorce —the type of hateful nightmare that ends in legal precedent (at least in Central Ohio). I did not have healthy examples of loving relationships, let alone marriages. I was once engaged to be married to a man, planned the wedding, found the dress and then ended a seven year relationship months before the big day to the tune of “Ready to Run” by The Dixie Chicks (okay, the last part is a lie--it was a thoughtful departure void of dramatics and a soundtrack which would be more appropriately titled “Then I Turned and Walked Back Downstairs to the Couch Where I Would Sleep For a Few Months Until I Moved a Couple Miles Southwest”). Since then, I have fallen in and out of love with myself a few times and made a career as a family law attorney.
My limited autobiography above is factually accurate; however, the conclusions it conjures are misleading. I know love and I believe in marriage. And despite the amount of sociopaths one may encounter in this life, I know I’m not alone in this respect. I have heard a lot of things in my office and the courtroom, but have yet to meet someone who enters an engagement or a marriage with the plan to get divorced. The reality is, however, that divorce becomes a part of many marriages. And I’m here to remind you that it is both a healthy and appropriate part of your wedding dialogue to also plan for that possibility. So, back to you. You’ve never felt as sure of your relationship as you do now, right? If you and your partner are genuine in your promise to one another, then my promise to you is that you will make it through this conversation.
Take a deep breath. As with any contract, your marriage contract imparts both rights and responsibilities upon you and your spouse. So many of these rights and responsibilities, however, don’t actualize until a marriage is terminated. The state symbolizes marriage by a piece of paper, whereas divorce often inspires multiple reams of paper, many of which find their way to my desk. In order to fully understand these benefits and burdens, you need to understand the law and determine whether you may want to enter into a premarital agreement--an instrument by which you can plan for and ultimately agree to vary or limit marital property and support rights that you would otherwise receive by being legally married. In layman’s terms, you need to evaluate potential outcomes and manage your expectations.
Ok, take another deep breath. While I would love to provide you with immediate answers, your circumstances and interests have to be evaluated on an individual basis by a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. I also can’t contemplate all the questions you should ask an attorney about your unique situation, except to tell you that you should be prepared to discuss all of your financial circumstances, in addition to that of your spouse. As you can imagine, this requires honesty and disclosure. If your spouse doesn’t want to tell you about the millions they’re making and hiding overseas, then your relationship has far greater barriers than a wedding to-do shortlist.
As an exercise in thinking in divorce mode for just a moment, however, let’s pretend that you have purchased a home prior to your marriage. Have you ever actually considered whether or not your spouse could be entitled to a portion of the equity in the home upon divorce? And have you considered whether any of these factors have the possibility of changing the answer to that question?
He has never lived there and never will.
The home will be used as investment property and we will get rental income.
Even though we rent it out, he contributes to financial obligations associated with the property.
We intend to live there together.
He expects to get inheritance money from his great uncle upon his death and we have decided to remodel our upstairs with that money to make room for a nursery.
The home increases in value during the course of our marriage.
He contributes to the mortgage.
We refinance the mortgage together.
We take out a second mortgage to finance his education.
I transfer title to both of our names.
The home goes into foreclosure.
The home burns down and we decide to live off the land and invest the insurance money we receive in his new business venture.
My parents give us money to remodel the kitchen.
We sell it and decide to buy a home together during our marriage.
We use the money we got from my old house as a down payment on the new home.
My spouse dies.
I die without a will.
I die with a will that contemplates my son receiving the home upon my death.
So, what’s my best advice? My best advice is to get advice. Educate yourself on your options for moving forward. This means seeking out a local attorney and getting independent legal advice separate from your fiancé before your wedding. Shop around for attorneys like you did your wedding dress or suit, and find the right fit for you. Need a referral? Contact your local bar association. On a budget? Many attorneys offer free consultations. And if talking to an attorney still overwhelms the hell out of you, schedule just one last cake testing beforehand so that you can
stress eat on your new found fears which have completely crushed any hopes of marital bliss make sure the lavender-vanilla with rosewater-ginger buttercream is the best you can do.
Beyond seeking professional advice, whether it be an attorney, a financial planner or a mental health professional, my hope is that before you make vows to yourself and your future spouse, that you are empowered to make intentional decisions beyond wedding food, flowers, fashion and fucking bullshit. The strength of a marriage is two people who, prepared to swim amongst a sea of choices, fail to drown day after day. You’ll never see snorkeling that magnificent on your honeymoon cruise—it’s a treasured lifetime phenomenon.
It is the combined intentionality of these consistent choices that strengthens the institution of marriage. Considering my potential union with my future spouse, what a gift it will be to say without cliché that it could have been anyone, but I chose him. My vows will continue with, “I will commit myself fully to you, you (in all likelihood) middle class, healthy, 30-45 year old, white, heterosexual man. I know all the marital rights and responsibilities afforded to us and there’s no other person I’d rather share them with, even upon divorce.”
My dear Catalysts, I implore you to believe in marriage and plan for divorce. Only by considering every possibility, even one in which you and your spouse are separated, can you begin to understand what it means to commit to your lives together. So, you don’t give a shit about the house. Fine, I get it. But what about your heart? If you don’t consider divorce as an option, you may never fully commit to marriage. Planning for divorce amongst all the other decisions, confronting the part of marriage that terrifies you the most, may just be your best first defense in preventing it from happening. If you want to have the wedding of the year, I’m sure you’re already doing everything right. If you want a marriage for all time, add divorce planning to that wedding to-do list.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinions. This article is intended to inspire critical thinking and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the article and the receipt of the same does not constitute an attorney-client relationship between the writer and reader of this article. If you have legal questions or are in need of legal services, please contact a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this artcicle without first seeking the advice of an attorney.
Lynanne Wolf is a solo domestic relations attorney who operates her own firm, The Law Office of Lynanne Wolf, LLC in Downtown Columbus, Ohio.