It began as a silly game at a bridal shower. Filled with too much champagne and cake, we were asked to write down a single piece of advice for the bride and put it in a white basket. Most of the marital advice ranged from “don’t go to bed angry” to “make your marriage a priority.”
My three-word answer spiraled the party into a spirited discussion that lasted long after both the champagne and cake were gone.
I’m glad there was no cake left because we might have thrown it at each other if there were. What were those three words? “Separate bank accounts.”
“Girl, you are banking on your marriage to fail,” said the bride’s sister. “That’s why you are single right now,” slurred a mutual college friend. “A man is the head of the household,” an older auntie piped in. “That’s why our men are leaving black women us for white girls. We won’t let them lead our families.”
Nevertheless, I persisted, “No grown woman who gets up and goes to work every day should have to ask for permission when she wants to buy something.” But that’s what happens sometimes when we fall in love and get married or remarried at a later age. Some grown women revert to our younger selves.
We avoid having awkward, yet necessary, conversations because we don’t want to “scare him off.”
In doing so, we bet our financial futures, as well as those of our children and grandchildren, on a single, marital throw.
Is Marriage a Gamble?
Researchers have debated in recent years in dueling articles about whether it’s true that “more than half of all marriages end in divorce.” The divorce rate in the United States has endured its ebbs and flows in the past four decades. It reached a peak of 22.8 divorces per 1,000 married women ages 15 and over, declined steadily over the years, spiked in 2008 when there were 20.5 divorces per 1,000 and slowed in 2016 to 16.7 per 1,000, according to data from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
It varies by generation. Our “let’s stay together” parents and grandparents are divorcing at higher rates. Divorces among Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 64) have more than doubled from 1990 to 2012 and those among people over 65 have tripled during that same time.
The good news for Gen X’ers is “about 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary
excluding those in which a spouse died, up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates,” according to a 2014 report for the New York Times.
But University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen argued the Times report was deeply flawed and the real divorce rate in the United States was 52.7 percent. In addition, just because the divorce rate has declined in recent years doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
Divorce rates also vary by race and gender. “At nearly every age, divorce rates are higher for black than for white women, and they are generally lowest among Asian and foreign-born Hispanic women,” said researchers Kelly Raley, Megan Sweeney, and Danielle Wondra in a 2016 study. “Recent demographic projections suggest that these racial and ethnic gaps in marriage and marital dissolution will continue growing.”
That’s why Lynda V. Harris, a financial advisor and vice-president of the Henderson Financial Group Inc. says she works with women who have earned significant assets before getting married and supports consideration of a prenuptial agreement.
“Eighty percent of the people in nursing homes are women of color,” said Harris, the author of Fabulously Fake and Beautifully Broke.
“We live longer than men but make less. It’s extra important for us to get our financial house in order.”
Stacking the Odds in Our Favor
A prenuptial agreement is a contractual agreement entered before marriage or a civil union outlining the terms of division of property and spousal support in the event of a divorce or marital break-up. It might also include provisions regarding forfeiture of assets due to adultery and guardianship.
“Marriage is easy to get into, but hard to get out of when you don’t manage expectations, leave things up in the air, and don’t have a living trust,” Harris said. “We’ve all known those horror stories in which divorce takes a lot of time and the only person who makes money is the attorney. A prenuptial agreement saves a lot of heartbreak.”
Many marriages these days are second and third ones, Harris said. A prenuptial agreement can protect the assets of women and men who have amassed real estate, business earnings, and retirement savings in between marriages and want to pass their wealth on to their children and grandchildren.
“Right now, men are going after women’s wealth in ways you cannot believe,” Harris said. “It used to be an embarrassment, but not anymore.”
A judge recently upheld Jill Scott’s prenuptial agreement and denied her ex Mike Dobson’s request that the singer and actress pay $6,500 for his legal fees. Scott’s prenup prevents Dobson from seeking spousal support, alimony, or “marital property” from their union.
To protect their wealth, women of color must throw away generations of cultural baggage they carry about men, marriage, and money. Such baggage includes guilt about making more than their partners, fears about a shortage of available men, and allowing men to manage the family finances, despite whether they have the proven skills to do so.
“A prenuptial agreement is not a prescription for failure,”
“It lets you know what you are working with, so you can go about the business of being in love.” said Harris.
Welp! There you have it, ladies. Choose wisely.