We in California are often bombarded with the latest celebrity divorce gossip, and it can sometimes influence how we perceive the entire divorce process to be, because it seems like the tabloids make every juicy morsel in the process seem far more (or less) dramatic and upsetting than it really is. With some of these famous couplings lasting mere months, to the ones that break our hearts because we though they would stand the test of time, many of these stories fascinate us. When it come to your own legal separation or divorce, though, how feasible a goal is it to try to model such a personal situation after the rich and famous? Back in 2014, when actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin announced their “Conscious Uncoupling”, the term inspired its share of satire and ridicule not because it seemed like a bad idea, but because it seems so out of touch for regular people with actual emotions and real-world grievances to achieve. Now that Ms. Paltrow is remarried and making the talk show circuits touting the happy state of her new marriage AND previous divorce along with a promised book on the subject, the American public is again forced to examine this complicated ideal.
If you ask the experts that commented on Paltrow’s Goop website, conscious uncoupling "brings wholeness to the spirits of both people who choose to recognize each other as their teacher." While THAT may seem a bit esoteric for most of us, what it really means is that former partners put aside blame in favor of effective co-parenting and/or emotional well-being.
The term, coined by relationship expert Katherine Woodward Thomas, whose five-week program of the same name promises to "release the trauma of a breakup, reclaim your power, and reinvent your life." Where it differs from other break-up scenarios is that the couple believes that they have both tried to work through problems in their relationship without success. The decision to end the relationship, whether a marriage or long-term relationship, is made by both parties with an agreement to cause the least amount of damage to themselves, their personal integrity, and their offspring. Sounds like a sound concept, doesn’t it? And if both parties are equally financially solvent with substantial resources and neither is rubbing a new love interest in the other’s face, it also seems like a viable option. The problem with “Conscious Uncoupling” as cited by celebrity, is that most of us don’t live like that. Also, and this is the kicker, most of us have some sort of feelings of despair or anger that we are just too exhausted or busy to deal with because the realities of separating one life into two leaves little time for anything else. What the proponents of “Conscious Uncoupling” may not have to deal with is the practical matters of that split. Where am I going to live? Who is going to pay for daycare or school for the kids? What about clothes and groceries, and will I even be able to afford my weekly yoga class? EVERYTHING is going to change, therapy may not be an option at first because things are so up in the air. You want to take care of your kids, and it may seem more realistic to you to make it easier for them by pretending to table resentments because that is all you can manage right now. Finally, if there has been infidelity or abuse of any kind, this concept can be an impossible pill to swallow for the aggrieved party.
Sure, “Conscious Uncoupling” works out if you have multiple homes, and various sources of income is coming in to both parties. In these cases, many of the common stressors of the average separated couple can be bypassed in favor of immediate attention to emotional adjustment. When you are talking about giant sprawling properties with different housing structures situated across the landscape, it isn’t such a hardship to consider staying on that property with your ex to co-parent when the chances are slim that you will run into each other. The same can be said for those “family vacations” that former Hollywood couples like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner go on - new love interests in tow with the kids. Its difficult to imagine such a scenario involving regular folk who must worry about furnishing new apartments since they moved out of the joint home, much less enjoying tropical getaways in those first lean months/years of starting over.
Conscious Uncoupling is surely successful for the lucky few that have the time, finances, and lack of emotional distress. For everyone else, it’s probably best to call an experienced attorney…and they can hopefully recommend a good therapist.
Hopefully, in everyone’s life, they find that perfect someone that they are meant to be with. She, who is the other half of your soul. The man that really gets you is your best friend and your lover. You have found the answer to the question of your future, and you want to make it official. While we are all certain that life after the wedding is assured, none of us can see into the future as to what will be. Human beings grow and change, sometimes at different rates, and sometimes down different paths. So, before we enter into what is necessarily a legal agreement between two parties based on a set of circumstances that are bound to change, wouldn’t it be the smart thing to do to first sit down with an expert or two and discuss, in writing, what the expectations you BOTH have for this life you plan together? Heaven forbid the unthinkable happens, and you can no longer envision a future which includes the person you currently swear to love, honor and cherish until death, what happens after the marriage? Consult any legal expert, regardless of income or assets, and they will advise you to negotiate a prenuptial agreement that benefits BOTH parties in case things just don’t work out.
Prenuptial agreements are no longer a tool used by the wealthier spouse to ensure they aren’t being “taken advantage” of. Even for couples who start with nothing, the potential earnings and community property laws in California would behoove engaged couples of any tax bracket to discuss the future should the marriage be unsuccessful. In California, the dissolution of a marriage and the allocation of property is governed by the California Family Code. For those who are wise enough to consider a prenuptial agreement, a measure of control is kept between spouses as opposed to the State, over which you have no say. Because of this, it's wise that each party to hire a legal expert to represent them so that the final draft of the prenuptial agreement protects the interest of both parties.
Despite the clinical reputation of this sort of contract, sitting down with your future spouse to REALLY talk about your future should not be the romance killer its often made out to be by those stereotypical “fortune hunter” characters often depicted in movies (although they do exist). Having a frank and honest discussion about what you expect from marriage, what all your deal breakers are, and can ultimately be a way to strengthen your foundation. For one thing, the process requires full disclosure of all assets, debts, and financial situations and should involve discussion on how you will both handle your money and economic future. Money can be a significant stressor on a marriage, and better to find out your coping skills beforehand as well as develop a plan to deal with anything that may come up! Similarly, given the emotional and physical blissed-out state that many engaged couples exude, sitting with the lawyers to discuss what your ideas about children, child rearing, allocation of household chores, and even sexual responsibilities should entail can be quite eye-opening! After hashing out all these minute details, you will surely know your future spouse more thoroughly, and be able to make a more informed decision about your future without all those pesky pheromones clouding your judgment.
An argument can be made that having a substantial prenuptial agreement is similar to having flood insurance on your house. We all hope the flood never comes, but if it does, it pays to be covered. As the famous financial advisor Suze Orman shares, “As somebody who, in my second marriage, insisted on a prenuptial agreement, I can also testify that sometimes it is an act of love to chart the exit strategy before you enter the union, in order to make sure that not only you but your partner as well, knows that there will be no World War III should hearts and minds, for any sad reason, change.”
Just turn on the tv or internet broadcasts right now, and you can hardly escape the news that Jeff Bezos and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos are getting divorced. Mr. Bezos is the genius behind Amazon and according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index the wealthiest person on the planet, with a net worth of about $136 billion! However, because Jeff and MacKenzie reportedly don’t have a prenuptial agreement, this number could significantly decrease. Remember, Washington like California, is a community property state, meaning all assets could be split right down the middle when the couple finalizes their divorce.
As to whether you should hire an attorney or attorneys to handle your prenups, take a lesson from Steven Spielberg. Mr. Spielberg and his first wife, Amy Irving signed a prenup on the back of a napkin, and a judge agreed to award Ms. Irving $100 million because he decided that the “document” was invalid since she was not represented by an attorney.
While the motivation to enter into a prenuptial agreement is undoubtedly financially practical, the other benefits are of equal importance when we advise negotiating one. Ultimately, the affianced will have a greater understanding of communication and compromise, while establishing those financial practices that can put marriage at risk. In the end, knowing that a marriage will not end with acrimonious months or even years in court can relieve some of the stresses of the unknown, and encourage a more significant effort to make that marriage work.
If you are ready to tie the knot, you need to seriously consider the advantages of getting a prenuptial agreement. If you are already married and feel like you need to protect yourself and the assets that you brought into the marriage with a post-nuptial agreement, contact the Law Offices of Tracy Duell-Cazes, TDC Family Law, and schedule a free consultation. 408-267-4848.