Most people would screen prospective tenants or employees more rigorously than a potential spouse. A landlord will want to ensure that a tenant has good credit and is going to pay the rent. Business owners will look at a person’s employment history to decide whether or hire him or her. But doing a background check on a potential mate? Isn’t that rather tacky and unromantic?
You may be very concerned about him or her being sexually and emotionally compatible, but what about making sure your spouse-to-be is financially compatible? Wouldn’t you want to know if there was a history of bankruptcy or hefty credit card debt? It’s a habit you might have to support once you tie the knot. Dean fell for Edith and married her after only a short courtship, not knowing she had a penchant for maxing out credit cards. The couple are still together, but Dean’s friends bemoan the fact that he has to work like a dog to pay her extravagant bills.
There’s a lot of press coverage about prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, particularly among celebs. Of course these folks are more likely to have a lot of dosh to protect, plus the money to pay high-priced lawyers to draft the agreements. These contracts may or may not be honored by the courts in the event of a split. American courts appear to prefer prenuptial agreements, although what is acceptable varies widely according to the state in which you reside. In Britain, postnuptial agreements are more likely to stand up in court than prenups. Several factors can render these contracts invalid. Important questions to consider include: Did both husband and wife have independent legal advice? Did one party sign under duress? Was there full disclosure about assets? Were there any changes, such as the birth of children? Does the contract try to avoid providing child support? Is it an unfair contract that primarily benefits only one party?
If you have found out that your husband is a philanderer, it is critical to arm yourself with factual information about joint finances: bank balances, savings accounts, bills, credit card debts, insurance policies, stocks, pension plans, annuities, investments, long term care plans, loans, mortgages, etc. You would need to know about all this, even if you did not have an adulterer as a husband and had absolutely no desire to split up with him. What if your husband were to become incapacitated or die suddenly? That would not be the best time to have to learn about your finances. When considering divorce, this information will help you answer a very important question—are there enough joint assets to divide in two and still provide you with an acceptable standard of living?
If your partner has lied to you about his philandering, he might be lying about his financial affairs too. So it might be necessary for you to do some detective work to find out the truth. Mobile phones and laptops are likely to hold a treasure trove of data. However, as I write in the “Avoid Spy Against Spy” section of Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not, spying on your husband can be a double-edged sword with plenty of pitfalls. It is important to be clear about your motives. Are you spying to drive yourself crazy emotionally or purely to find out financial and other information that would be relevant if you split up?
Despite this age of feminism, I have come across several cases of women quite ignorant about their marital finances who let their husbands handle it all. One British man ran off with his secretary and moved all the family money to Switzerland. His wife got virtually nothing in the divorce settlement. Sometimes the man will be the clueless partner, particularly if he is a lot older than his wife. He might be a computer dinosaur, leaving all the bill paying and online access to accounts up to his wife. He might barely understand how to use a checkbook and never look at bank or credit card statements, giving his wife carte blanche to buy whatever she wants.
Money issues and infidelity are the two main reasons for marital strife. Although financial instability is one of the main causes of divorce, lack of money is also a principal reason why unhappy couples still stay together. Nevertheless, often couples with the most assets to fight over have the nastiest partings. Divorce lawyers can make out like bandits—the more acrimonious the split, the more lucrative it is for them. This is a compelling reason, if you and your husband separate, to do the best you can to keep things as harmonious as possible and decide together how to divide your joint assets. the alternative is to let dueling accountants and lawyers do it for you and drain the coffers dry in the process. You and your husband will still most likely need an attorney and/or accountant to draft the agreement.
If your husband has a history of promiscuity, it is important to ensure that illegitimate children are specifically disinherited in family wills and living trusts. Many have default wording that would allow children your husband may have sired with other women to claim a share of his estate.
Discovering that infidelity has put your marriage on the rocks can put the most level-headed person onto an emotional rollercoaster of fear, depression, anger, jealousy and the desire for vengeance. You may have an irresistible temptation to make snap decisions based on emotions or revenge. Try to take a step back and calm down before making any major decisions. I describe several methods to do this in the first four chapters of my book Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not. The bottom line: always look after your own (and your children’s) best long term interests, getting advice from trusted friends and professionals if necessary. The best revenge is to get past the need for it.