Financial Fridays: Divorce Sucks. A How-To

I never write about my ex-wife. It’s her life.

But I want to write about divorce because the entire thing is a scam.

As far as I can tell, the only real legal benefit of marriage is that you can share medical insurance if you have a regular 9-5 job.

Everything else (estate planning, kids expenses) can be done legally, piece by piece, and much more efficiently and kindly.

Lifespans are long and kids, sadly, grow up, and no longer need you in the same way.

They no longer wake up in the middle of the night calling your name and in tears. Their nightmares are different.

So divorce happens. Because this government mandated false commitment has a way of withering. A dead leaf on a tree. Falling to the ground in an extra chilly winter.

When I was getting a divorce, I first went to a lawyer.

“This is the one you have to use,” said my friend. She had used her.

Just for walking in the door, the lawyer wanted $10,000. I didn’t want to give it to her.

She explained to me what would happen. I hire her. Then my ex-wife hires a lawyer (another $10,000). Then official letters are sent. Then negotiations between the lawyers happen.

Lots of negotiations: kids, estate, money, assets, house, etc. Anger flares. Then court. Then judges.

Forget it, I said.

I didn’t hire her. My ex didn’t hire a lawyer. Probably $100,000+ saved.

We decided what we wanted to do about the kids. We live in the same town so it’s easy.

EVERYTHING ELSE: we did this.

We put all of our assets in a corporation co-owned by us 50-50.

Then, asset-free, we made a one page divorce agreement. THEN we showed it to a lawyer who approved it and drove it through the court system.
Because it was so unusual it had trouble getting through the court system.

We got legally divorced. Emotionally, we were divorced. But we were still financially tied together.

But at that point we had the leisure of figuring that part out.

Which we did when emotions were less strong and we ultimately dissolved the corporation and everything was fair.

Total cost of divorce: $1000. Total time (from agreement to judge approval): about six months.

Did everything work out great? I don’t know. But it was probably better than two strangers ripping us apart and charging every minute for it.

Some things to keep in mind:

Kids are the only thing that’s important.

Throughout life, feelings and emotions go high and low. People change. Bad and good stories happen.

Marriage is a story. Divorce is a story.

But kids are not a story. They are an assignment. Love them and care for them and set an example so they become good adults.

Adults who remember to play like kids, but have experience that leads to wisdom.

When we first told the kids we were getting a divorce they cried.

They didn’t cry for us. They cried because they didn’t want to be “one of those kids”. Whatever image they had of “those kids” meant.

So our first goal was to make this smooth for them.

When you think of divorce, you think money and court battles. We decided to remove that from the equation by separating out the money.

We got our legal divorce quickly so everyone could just move on with their lives.

Then over the next two years, we figured out the financial situation in a much more calm environment. That was also a one page agreement with no lawyers needed.

I would definitely consult an accountant to make sure you set up the right structure to hold financial assets.

No situation is perfect. No relationship is perfect. But no matter what terrible things happen in a marriage (and terrible things always happen), they didn’t happen to your kids.

Some things I deeply miss because we are not together as much. I miss the “Daddy!” and the hugs when I come home from work.

And now they are teenagers and that part of their life is over.

Now I’ve been given the assignment to help make them into good adults so they can continue to destroy the world like I’ve been doing.

I only hope I am doing a good job.


 

  • When my ex-husband and I split up last year we struggled to figure out how best to divorce. We knew we were cosmically headed in different directions but didn’t want to fight over kids or assets. We live in San Francisco and *of course* there’s a startup working on solving the problem so we used the service (Wevorce) because their goal is a kind, thoughtful transition. It cost us $5k, 4 in-person mediation sessions and 6 months.

    It wasn’t a perfect process but I’m glad we sped right to divorce once it was clear we weren’t right for each other.

    Dealing with the kids’ emotions has been the hardest part. We never fought in front of them so they were shocked when we announced our separation.

    The lessons they seem to have taken away from the divorce include: 1) it’s okay to feel and express a range of emotions including sadness and anger 2) pain is temporary 3) we’re still a family, no matter what the configuration 4) conflict can be resolved in loving, thoughtful ways.

    • Jessica Toussaint

      You are a thoughtful, strong, and amazing woman. God bless you and your inner strength of being a wonderful woman and an inspiration to your ex, children, to others who know you and to thoe who will read your comment :)

  • It’s great you were able to get along with your ex enough to come to agreements and get divorced, but that is the exception more than the rule. I wish it was that way. I coach people who can’t afford an attorney on how to navigate the divorce process themselves. Attorneys are expensive, but if one side wants to fight about everything, there is no way around it. Both sides have to choose the right attorney from day one; attorneys who want to settle, not litigate through court.

    • disqus_mfq9P39knH

      There is a market for more attorneys like that.

  • Fraga123

    Great story about the 0.001% of divorces that proceed rationally.

  • Kevin Getz

    so you debunk outmoded ideas like college and home ownership, yet praise marriage..dissonance?

  • Sheila Anderson

    “Everything else (estate planning, kids expenses) can be done legally, piece by piece, and much more efficiently and kindly.”

    I really love your story about your divorce. You and your ex-wife sound amazing actually, putting your daughters first. But I have to say that the whole estate planning thing was definitely not true for gay couples before marriage equality. Every relationship ends, whether by death or divorce. It’s how little old lesbian Edie Windsor decided enough was enough, getting taxed hundreds of thousands of dollars on her home that she shared with her partner, when the partner died. She took her case to the Supreme Court (and won).

    It’s a side issue. And I don’t mean to detract from your overall story. But that quote grated on me a bit and so here I am, clogging up the intertubes…

  • Diana Degan

    Congrats on being sane and rational enough to be able to do this as you went through your divorce. And your ex too. Most people can’t. And if you have an ex that is narcissistic, and you are dealing with narcissistic personality disorder, then there is no way in hell that you will be able to accomplish that. You did the right thing by keeping your children front and center as what was important. Again, too many people don’t, even after the divorce is final.

  • Lucretian

    There is another benefit of marriage. I was married 9 years. Then in a great relationship for 27 years. We divided our efforts to have a good life and his business made really good money so I could do the other things that make life good but don’t bring in a paycheck. Now we’re not together and I’m approaching that time in life when social security becomes a way to make ends meet. My 9-year marriage was one year short to Count at all and my 27 years didn’t help at all. It’s tough to be old and poor.

  • Peter Frank

    Great column, but what fucking planet do you come from?

    Some of us are from Earth.

  • I agree it’s far better to split amicably, especially for the kids. However it’s not possible unless both agree to do so.
    I was lucky enough to be able to do this, but my Parents was a different story. Dad was willing but not my Mum, she was too caught up in a “Hope he dies and goes to hell” phase that lasted until her death several years after his. We all suffered from her self inflicted rage that their marriage didn’t work.
    No one was to balme, they were just very different people, with different beliefs and values who got married because she was pregnant with me. Back in the old days when that was expected. Thank goodness people no longer have to get married for the wrong reasons. I just wish that divorce could be different, that people could agree to disagree, but share out whatever they have built up equally. Instead of trying to get one over the other person, as a way of punishing each other. I like your way of doing things differently 😀

  • disqus_mfq9P39knH

    “But kids are not a story. They are an assignment. Love them and care for them and set an example so they become good adults.”

    This cannot be stressed enough. We place WAY too much of an importance on marriage in comparison to our responsibility as a parent.

    • Philip Brown

      err. no you have it backwards.
      Part of the “set an example so they become good adults”, is to show them how grown up people can overcome differences and have a good marriage together.
      That is part of our responsibilities as a parent.

      • TheCAG

        Sure, that’s a part of it, provided you were smart enough to marry someone with whom such overcoming was possible. It’s equally important to demonstrate to your children that you know when enough is enough. Once every avenue to save a marriage has been exhausted, we need to show them how to have the courage to call it a day.

        • Philip Brown

          Thats not what courage means.
          That may still be what you want to teach them, but it aint “courage”.

          • TheCAG

            It most definitely is courage, Philip. Ask any woman trying to get away from an abusive relationship if it takes courage. Ask any man who married a raging ____ if it takes courage to tell your kids that you had to end the marriage after you tried everything possible. I think maybe you are 12, after all.

          • Philip Brown

            That was not the scenario you described at first. Physical abuse is a special case.
            The majority of divorces happen basically because one or both people “dont feel like doing it any more”

          • TheCAG

            Okay, dispense with physical abuse and try to tell me, with a straight face, that it doesn’t take courage to tell your children your marriage is ending and you’ll be moving out of the house and seeing them much less in the future. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, Philip, and some of them required courage. THAT required the most from me and facing my 7 year old daughters tears as I explained this to her that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. You’re really pissing me off.

          • Philip Brown

            You seem to define courage as “it’s really, really difficult, but you do it anyway” = courage.

            So here’s the problem with that.
            It can be also used with the following scenario:

            “honey.. i love you very much. i want you to know that first of all.
            The thing is.. i just dont love your mommy any more. I’m not attracted to her any more.
            And I’ve met someone that I really DO love. She completes me! She’s so amazing!
            I just cant be happy with your mommy any more, so I’m going to divorce her and marry this new lady. I want to be happy. and I want to teach you to follow your happiness too.
            I hope you understand. This is SOOo HHaaaarrdddd…”

            cheaters often justify what they are doing in exactly that manner. they walk out on their families to pursue another relationship. but they pat themselves on the back and call themselves brave and courageous, because “it’s hard”.

            Also as a side note:
            who’s going to admit to their friends that they’re a cheater/adulterer/addict ..???
            pretty much no-one. But all those cheaters have friends somehow.

            So it’s pretty much a sure thing, that out of those 14 divorcees, some of them are lying to you. You will never know, because you werent there living with them.

            btw, for the record: I’m 40, i’m divorced, she cheated on me, then walked out when I caught her.
            no-one had a clue. But in recounting why she’s divorced, she like to play the imaginary victim card to her friends… who don’t talk to me of course, so again, they have no clue.
            And yes. she likes to call herself “courageous” for walking out on me, and inflicting divorce on our children for 100% selfish reasons.

          • TheCAG

            Courage
            NOUN
            – the ability to do something that frightens one:
            “she called on all her courage to face the ordeal”
            – strength in the face of pain or grief:
            “he fought his illness with great courage”

            See the problem with your reasoning is that it doesn’t take any courage at all to have that conversation that you just described, and for some reason you seem to think most couples going through a relationship crisis is caused by one or both of them acting like self-absorbed children … self absorbed children who never think about what divorce does to a child (I was the child of a nasty divorce), or even why they fell in love with this person in the first place. They don’t ponder what they did wrong over the years that led to this point, or what they didn’t do.

            People behaving like self absorbed children may certainly be the cause of many divorces, I have not done any studies or research about that, but in my anecdotal experience, the more common problems tend to stem from individual challenges facing each of the people in a troubled marriage … stuff they haven’t worked out in their own lives. Monkeys on their backs, if you will.

            At any rate, I am not dismissing your point completely – I just think you paint with far too broad a brush and I would suggest that many of the wrecked marriages you refer to might have systemic problems that go far deeper than selfish desires for individual liberty or simple lust. That’s the tip of the iceberg.

  • Philip Brown

    How nice of you that you could be so reasonable about how to divorce.
    But really, if you could both be so reasonable with each other as all that.. you were both capable of *staying married*.

    thing is, studies clearly show that people who choose to stick together(and work on improving things) through the inevitable lul in loveydovey feelings around those years, are way, way happier 5 years down the road than the people who get divorced.

    • Studies also show that children of unhappy couples who decide to “stay married” are the ones most effected by those decisions.

      • Philip Brown

        you didnt read carefully.
        I didnt say they should merely “stay married”.
        i said that should CHOOSE […] to IMPROVE THINGS.
        People who stay together but dont choose to do the work, are part of the problem too.

        If they can choose to get along for the kids after divorce, they could choose to get along BEFORE the divorce too. In some ways it is EASIER. Because going through divorce proceedings usually puts up a whole new level of things to resent between them.

        • TheCAG

          Philip, you apparently either married a saint, you’re unmarried, or you’re 12. One of these things has to be true, otherwise you would not have such a pollyana view about “choosing to improve things.” Some of us have tried for over a decade to save a marriage, facing a partner who was intransigent and unwilling to compromise, and disrupting the peace and serenity of our children’s lives in the process. I’m sure you mean well, but you can keep your sanctimonious BS.

          • Philip Brown

            I said “they”.
            “They” means “more than one”.
            BOTH people have to act like grownups.

          • TheCAG

            Well, I applaud any couple who can make it work. I believe a lot of people pay little attention to the meaning behind their vows, so to speak, and most young married couples are completely clueless about how much is going to be demanded of them in order to get through the worst bits to come. Children suffer those consequences as they either work it out or don’t, which was Juil’s point.

          • Philip Brown

            Most people are surprised to learn that psychologists report that the best home environment for children, is not a conflict free one, but one where they see their parents having conflict, and then RESOLVING it in a positive manner.

            It follows then, that seeing their parents have conflict, and then running away from it, is the least beneficial.

          • TheCAG

            I agree, Philip – I think this happens far too often and many people do not take their marriages seriously, which is what I just said above. Certainly it’s good to show your children how to resolve differences and move forward; it is also important to keep them away from shouting matches and ugly words sprayed across rooms at each other during a fight. It’s important to keep them away from being used as pawns, which also happens frequently with unhappy couples.

        • Even with your wording, to “work on improving things” doesn’t mean they will improve. Some people are so sorely lacking in self-awareness that they believe they are putting in the work to make things better when in fact they are the one making things worse.
          Intentions are good and worthwhile, but the actual ability to change doesn’t always come by people when they want. Perhaps in another time and place, but there will be some people in certain relationships where it just won’t be the case.

          • Philip Brown

            I dont disagree.
            thats why marriage counsellors exist.
            So that there is someone qualified who can tell a person who is willing to work on things, “dude.. that Isnt Actualy Helping. you need to go do THIS instead…”

          • Some people will straight up refuse to go to any sort of professional for help.
            And sometimes, it isn’t the relationship itself, but what the person associates with it, that breaks it.

            From personal experience, some people can hold the thoughts “this relationship sucks (and I will sabotage it)” and “this is the best relationship I will ever have, I will never let it go” in their mind at the same time. And this makes it a living hell for their partner.

          • Philip Brown

            All true statements, IMO.
            Sometimes, the jerk becomes human up after 2 years. Sometimes 10.
            Sometimes never.

            It then becomes a matter of whether you take your marriage vows seriously or not.

            Would be best if people got to talk through and understand this stuff BEFORE saying the vows, than having to figure it out afterwards.

            hypothetically, I’d really like to see the marriage officiant be required to say:
            “You may end up hating this persons guts after 7 years, give or take a few.
            Marriage means you’re swearing to stick with them anyway.
            If you’re not okay with that… then you arent emotionally prepared for marriage. The door’s right behind you. Dont let it hit you on your way out.”

          • It doesn’t matter how much someone talks them through the realities of marriage, some people will react totally outside their own prediction once in a long-term committed relationship.

          • Philip Brown

            also true.
            But my point is, probably only 5% of couples, or LESS, get the above talk. From ANYONE.
            Every married couple needs to hear it.
            Then there would be a lot fewer broken marriages, IMO.
            Obviously, still some. But a lot fewer.

  • flyover

    Divorce is so expensive because it is worth it.

  • Minè Berberoğlu

    To all comments here. I can see all the viewpoints and all I can think is the different types of situations existing out there. And you are all right. And a simple solution is not applicable. Depending on where we are in our own evolvement, who or what situation we attract to get past our individual growth, and how we react versus respond based on our own wisdom, experience and inspirations around us (influence from family and friends can help or hinder this part). The most important part is always to consider the kids. Yes. And it doesn’t anyway happen. I love your articles Mr Altucher. Always inspiring and full of heart. You’re a kind soul. And I appreciate you. I also enjoy reading the commenters. Very diverse. Good day all.

  • Jessica Toussaint

    I am sure that you are doing a wonderful job James. You’ve bee through a lot and you are a vulnerable hero and inspiration. I feel so blessed to read your posts. Knowing that it is ok to wake up and feel like shit and want to beat the crap out of myself. But also knowing that I am strong enough to overcome it. Thank you James :)