Americans lag behind most developed countries in literacy, problem-solving & math. These deficiencies do not greatly impact my divorce practice because most of us can divide by two or at least use a calculator to divide large numbers. I am amazed instead by the surprise, shock & dismay when I meet with new clients and they see, for the very first time, exactly what it means to be married.
Here’s a very short list:
- If you’re married, you are responsible for the support & maintenance of your spouse, regardless of your gender. This means you can be liable for health care costs if your spouse becomes disabled, even if you’re living apart and haven’t seen each other in years.
- If you’re married, you and your spouse are equal business partners. This means that your spouse is entitled to half of your retirement, even if he never worked a day during the marriage.
- If you’re married, you are liable for half of the debts accumulated during the marriage, with few exceptions. Ohio is not a title state. This means that the “stuff of life,” such as gasoline, Christmas gifts, vacations & groceries, are divisible by a Domestic Relations Court, even if the credit card is only in one spouse’s name.
- If you’re married, your money is your spouse’s money–you have your hands in each others’ respective wallets. Your spouse is assumed to have contributed to all the income earned during the marriage, even if he was not gainfully employed outside the home.
- If you’re married, and inherit your mother’s house, and pay the mortgage & taxes and make improvements, you just gave your spouse an interest in your inheritance that will be difficult to value.
- If you’re married, after 10 years you can collect social security as a “divorced spouse” based upon the higher of your income or your spouse’s income.
- If you’re married, your spouse has an interest in your hobbies, such as collectibles, musical instruments & perhaps even jewelry.
- If you’re married, your spouse has an interest in any businesses you establish, even if they do absolutely nothing to support it and whine and nag about it.
- If you’re married, and your spouse refuses to cooperate in your divorce, you can be in for a very long and expensive haul.
- Finally, if you’re married, there is a statutory limit on writing your spouse out of your will. He can always “elect against the will” and receive his statutory share.
Divorce is hardly unusual. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention reports that :
[t]he probability of a first marriage ending in separation or divorce within 5 years is 20 percent, but the probability of a premarital cohabitation breaking up within 5 years is 49 percent. After 10 years, the probability of a first marriage ending is 33 percent.
I would think by now that more people would be aware of the financial impact of marriage. From what I encounter in my office, the word on the street is limited to talk of wedding destinations, dress styles and sex. After getting the marriage license, most couples never give any of the “technicalities” of marriage a second thought.
A divorce face is every bit as ugly as a wedding face is beautiful. There needs to be just a little less glitter at the beginning so that a divorce, if it occurs, will not be quite so devastating.