At first glance, a divorce attorney might not be the first person you think of as a source of marriage advice. However, given all they’ve seen and heard— having spent thousands of hours with couples who are ending their marriages, divorce attorneys are uniquely qualified to provide advice about what couples considering marriage should and shouldn’t do if they want to avoid divorce.
Often this means having conversations you might consider awkward—but not having these big conversations about potential life-changers and the foundational aspects of your marriage can lead to tremendous stress, tears, and even divorce.
While marriage does mark a different state of your relationship—and is indeed a legal contract, it will not fundamentally change your spouse or everything about your relationship. In fact, it might even magnify some aspects of your future spouse or your relationship you aren’t fond of. To put it differently, let’s say your difficult colleague gets a promotion and is now your boss. This new position isn’t going to suddenly cleanse them of all their difficult attributes-in fact, you might be dealing with them more often.
1. You can’t change your spouse—despite how hard you may try
You are marrying the person you are dating, not the person you hope they’ll become someday. People often enter a relationship thinking they can change the other person—but they can’t. It is not realistic to think that just being married to someone will stop their annoying habits or evaporate their major character flaws. In fact, entering into a marriage with these expectations will set it up for failure from the start. Before marrying someone, make sure you can live with all aspects of the person you are dating—warts and all.
2. Marriage won’t make relatives more likeable
Being married to your future spouse will likely not make your future in-laws love you nor will it necessarily reduce conflicts with your future in-laws. Although it is plausible, it is not likely. In fact, there is a strong chance that these people will play an even more significant role in your life when you are married. This does not mean you must love your future spouse’s family, but it does mean you should reach a form of peace with yourself about how your future spouse relates to his/her family. Perhaps even more so, you should use the period before you are married to have open conversations about your expectations for the role your families will play in your lives once you are married.
3. Make hard decisions before you have to make them
People generally prefer to avoid hard conversations on topics like death, disease, employment, and location. Avoiding talking about these issues won’t prevent them from occurring—it will just mean you are not prepared when they come up. Prepare in advance for how will you will address these issues before they become problems.
4. Marriage is a legal contract
Leading up to the wedding, your attention might be focused on invitations, colors, and photographers—keep in mind that marriage is a legal contract that fundamentally changes the financial and legal interests of each spouse. Since laws vary by state, do some research into your state’s marriage and divorce laws. Look into how your finances and assets will merge after marriage, and consider if there are assets you might want to keep to yourself (which can be arranged in a prenup) Think of it as doing your homework.
5. Force yourself to have those unsexy or awkward conversations about finances
Financial reasons are the number one cause of divorces in the US, so it is crucial to get on the same page about finances right away. Are you each spenders, savers, or entering into the marriage with financial baggage? Remember when you marry someone, you most likely marrying their finances as well.
Frequently, one partner is in charge of finances and paying the bills and the other is in the dark, often by their own choice. However, both of you should be well informed about your finances and you should have regular conversations about goals, failings, and where you are. Find some common financial goals and consider and how can you work together to achieve them.
6. You need to be on the same page about kids
Not only whether or not to have kids, but also how you want to raise them. Part of this may come from observing your future spouse’s family–Are they harsh disciplinarians? Laissez-faire parents? Are you on the same page about religion? Education? Is either of you willing to sacrifice career or education to be a caretaker for children?
7. Get a prenup
While you might be tempted to think it could “jinx” the relationship or be bad luck, in reality it is quite the opposite. It can save you a tremendous amount of pain and money in the end. It not only allows you to determine contested issues like spousal maintained but also provides a mechanism of protecting pre-marital assets.
If both you are open during the process of drawing up a prenup, it can be a way of having honest conversations about fundamental aspects of your relationship including finances. You pay for car insurance but hopefully never get into an accident . You have medical insurance despite being hopeful you will never have a life-threatening condition. In many ways, a prenuptial agreement is an insurance policy for your relationship.
8. Start the prenuptial process early
Often prenups are sprung upon the other party shortly before the wedding. Or one partner hires a lawyer to draft a standard prenup, which is given to other partner who is advised to hire a lawyer to review it. Both of these situations can cause damage to your relationship and even lead to
pre-nups that are coercive, one-sided and emotionally destructive.
To prevent this, start the process well before the wedding so there is time to create an arrangement both of you are comfortable with. Ideally, each of you should have your own attorney to ensure that your interests are being prioritized.
9. Keep good records
Hold onto your pre-marriage financial records. Not only is this a good habit to be in with regard to your finances, if you ever do get divorced, you will need them to demonstrate your assets before your marriage. If you enter the marriage with certain assets, it is up to you to demonstrate you acquired them before the marriage. Without the documentation to prove something was yours before the marriage and didn’t mx with marital money, it will likely be included in a divorce settlement.
10. Realize that marriage is about compromise
Marrying someone does not mean giving up all of your independent hopes, goals, and dreams—but it does mean you will have to make compromises. Have conversations with your future spouse about your independent goals and hopes—and make sure you are comfortable supporting each other as you achieve them.