by: A divorcee who highly recommends getting a prenup and wrote this article to explain why
I was in my late twenties when I met my first husband. We met at work; he was kind and funny, so once we dated for a while we talked about potentially getting married. He was several years older than me, and I could hear my biological clock ticking like a massive snare drum in my own head.
At that point in my life, I had a solid career with a clear path for growth, both in opportunities and earnings potential. I had been in the same job since I was 16, so I had a good sized 401(k) and my company’s profit sharing plan offered additional funds for the future. I had a townhouse that I purchased 8 or 9 years earlier, but it was underwater after the recession drove the value down below the mortgage payoff.
So, basically, I didn’t “have” much as far as assets. Or so I thought.
Joe proposed to me in our kitchen. The ring was one that we picked out together and that I figured out how to pay for, financed it on credit in my name, and essentially bought it myself. (In retrospect, this should have been a red flag).
We got married at a too-expensive wedding that I paid for and that I continued to pay for after we were divorced.
Joe had a full-time job but wasn’t exactly headed up the corporate ladder. He had attitude problems at work and constantly got in trouble for his punctuality. I knew that his future wasn’t super bright at the company, but I tried to be a supportive spouse.
Over the years that we dated and then after we were married, I went through periods of feeling taken for granted. I made more money than him, I paid all the bills, I took care of everything. In return, I got a partner who was gone way too much to “hang with the boys,” and who couldn’t figure out what he wanted to do with his life despite being in his 30s.
None of that signaled to me that I should consider a prenup (or maybe not get married), but hey – live and learn.
Joe constantly did things that were deceptive, especially when it came to finances. He would need money “to lend to this person” or he would get big amounts of cash with little to no explanation. It always ended in a fight, so I eventually stopped asking questions.
About six months after the wedding, I could see that there was no light at the end of this tunnel. We were fighting all the time, and I just wasn’t happy. It was clear to me that Joe and I wanted different things out of life. I had a drive to be successful and he was content where he was at. I had grown tired of his “big plans” for the future that would never come to fruition.
We were also months into our marriage, and I still hadn’t changed my name, though it was something we had always discussed that I would do. Once we said “I do,” however, I felt in my heart that there was no way that we were going to make it another 50 years.
Joe asked me on a few different occasions, “when are you going to change your name?” I would come up with an excuse – blame it on the hassle, the paperwork, the trip to the DMV. I actually hid our marriage license for several weeks when it came in the mail, telling Joe that I couldn’t do anything until we had that.
I know, I know. Red flags everywhere.
Despite our differences, however, I never thought Joe was a bad guy. I felt that in my heart he truly did care for me, despite his sometimes selfish and hurtful actions. I knew that he never really wanted to hurt me. Right?
“You Want a Divorce?”
The day I told Joe I wanted a divorce was not a memorable day. It was just a regular Saturday, he was headed out to play golf with the boys and I was staying home, as had become a regular occurrence.
We were fighting about something, and I finally just said “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“What?” he replied.
“This. I don’t want to do THIS anymore.”
“What, like you want a divorce?” he asked, incredulously.
“Yeah, I think so.”
And that was it. I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders once the words were actually out there in the air. There was no screaming, no more fighting, just the words that now hung between us – words that you can never take back and can never unsay, even if you wanted to.
And then, Joe left for his golf day with the boys, because… of course he did.
In the days following the D-word conversation, things were definitely weird. Joe had packed up some things and went to go stay with a friend. I think he thought if he let me “cool off” I’d come to my senses.
But, the opposite happened. I felt… happy? Free? Normal? For the first time in years, I felt optimistic for the future.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I did care for Joe, and I did actually love him. However, I hadn’t been in love with him for quite some time. I know that it was wrong of me to not say something to him sooner. I should have called off that expensive wedding, but I can tell you that it’s far easier said than done.
“You Got a Lawyer?”
After it became clear that, like T. Swift says, we were never-ever-ever getting back together, I got to work on filling out the divorce papers. We didn’t have kids and didn’t own any property together, so it should have been super simple to get divorced. I mean, we hadn’t even been married for a year.
Now, I like to think that I’m pretty bright, and I’m a pro at doing taxes and other very “adult” things, but those divorce papers were beyond complicated.
However, much to my surprise, Joe informed me that his attorney would prepare them for us.
Hold on. “You got a lawyer?” I asked (now it was my turn to be incredulous).
Joe had gotten his friend, who is an attorney, to help him with the divorce. So, he would represent Joe, and I would be on my own. I was surprised, maybe even a little hurt, but I still wasn’t worried at that point. I mean, I’m not rich and Joe was a nice guy, so I figured it would just help us get the process going.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard through mutual friends that Joe was bragging about how he was going to take half of my townhouse and half of my retirement. I was dumbfounded. I had been contributing to my retirement for over 15 years, I had earned shares of stock in the company with my loyal service for all that time, and I couldn’t believe that Joe thought he was entitled to ANY of that.
I mean, honestly, here is a 30-something man who has NOTHING to show for himself. No savings, no career, no retirement, he didn’t even have a car – and he was going to try to take half of what I literally had worked for over my entire life (so far).
Luckily, that’s not what ended up happening, but the threat of it was enough to snap me into reality.
Where I Went Wrong
During my relationship with Joe, there were a lot of unknowns about him, his past, his financial situation, his credit, etc. We never had those awkward conversations. I didn’t know he had a vehicle repossession on his record or that he thought predatory payday loans were an acceptable way to get some cash for the weekend.
I’m not saying that would have prevented us from getting married, but it certainly would have helped me understand what I was actually signing up for.
My point is, you never know about those really important personal things until you ask. And, trust me, you shouldn’t be getting married if you haven’t asked.
A prenup wasn’t even on my radar when I was engaged to Joe. I thought that it was something that just really rich people do to keep their spouse-of-the-month from taking them to the cleaners. I was so wrong.
Here’s what I know, now:
- Joe could have petitioned to stay in my townhouse after the divorce.
- Joe could have fought for a share of my retirement.
- He could have asked the court for spousal support (alimony).
Basically, he could have made it a lot harder for me to start my new life with my current husband.
Life After Divorce
I know that divorce was the right option for me, so I don’t wear it like a badge of shame. Once I met my current husband, I knew for sure that things were SO wrong the first time around. I am 100% confident that my husband is my soul mate and that only death will part us, but that didn’t stop us from getting a prenup.
If you’re entering a second marriage, you need a prenup. Period.
Second marriages are significantly more likely to end in divorce than first marriages. In the U.S., around 65% of second marriages don’t last forever.
In my case, the prenup was a guaranteed way for us to talk about really important financial information and also get to know each other better. Yes, I make more money than my husband, but our prenup also protects him.
Neither of us are responsible for the other’s debt, including student loans that we both have. He has a child from his first marriage, so there are considerations for that, too.
And the best part? Our prenup includes a Sunset Clause, which means that after 20 years of marriage, the prenup will be null and void. Since I know in my heart of hearts that we will be together forever, it’s a win-win.
What I went through with a marriage, divorce, and re-marriage is probably more common than a lot of people think. If I had it to do over again, I would have been smarter the first time around.
If you’re getting married, you should definitely consider a prenuptial agreement, for the benefit of both partners and for the benefit of your future. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
It’s SO EASY to draft a prenup today, with services like HelloPrenup you can work on the document together with your future spouse and come up with something that benefits and protects both of you. HelloPrenup is affordable, user-friendly, and gives you all the tools you need to ask the right questions.
So, learn from my mistakes. Don’t marry a “Joe” and then feel surprised when he acts like “Joe” during a divorce – get a prenup that’s Joe-proof.
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected]