Fi­nan­cial plan­ner and founder of Foun­da­tion Fam­ily Wealth, shares her ad­vice to ex-spouses who have made ca­reer sac­ri­fices for their fam­i­lies

CityPress - - Tenders -

Too many times I’ve sat across the ta­ble from a sob­bing woman go­ing through a di­vorce. Di­vorce is al­ways heart­break­ing – but di­vorce in­volv­ing a woman who has sac­ri­ficed her ca­reer, her fi­nan­cial power and some­times her iden­tity is par­tic­u­larly trau­matic.

In­vari­ably, it’s tempt­ing to tell younger women be­hind her: “Don’t make the same mis­take. Do not give up your ca­reer. Al­ways main­tain your fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence.”

It all sounds sim­ple. Have your own ca­reer. Main­tain your fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence.

But then life hap­pens. You start a fam­ily. His job re­quires ex­ten­sive trav­el­ling. Two de­mand­ing jobs are not sus­tain­able or nec­es­sar­ily con­ducive to build­ing a fam­ily. So you agree that you will scale down. It’s log­i­cal since you take care of the kids. Your job takes sec­ond place. He ex­cels and earns the big bucks. You sup­port him and keep the home fires burn­ing. Then you split up and find your­self as a sin­gle par­ent at a time when you have to re­turn to a se­ri­ous job to earn se­ri­ous money to sup­port your­self in the fu­ture. If you were lucky, there were as­sets (that you knew of) that could be di­vided to pro­vide for your re­tire­ment. Usu­ally (sadly), there aren’t.

I’m not stereo­typ­ing. Money is power. You can re­place the woman for the man in this ex­am­ple and the re­sult will be the same.

Ca­reers fre­quently re­quire sacri­fice for re­ward. That sacri­fice comes in the form of time, money or both – and some­one has to be will­ing to give some­thing up.

Some­times the sacri­fice is discussed – there is a spo­ken or writ­ten con­tract. More of­ten than not, though, it is as­sumed or un­spo­ken.

Highly qual­i­fied women who make the ca­reer sacri­fice are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble. You give up your ca­reer to raise a fam­ily, but when you get di­vorced, your qual­i­fi­ca­tion will make you more eas­ily re­ha­bil­i­tat­able (as if you have been ad­dicted to a drug!). That’s right. You will be ex­pected to get back on your feet in the world of work in no time at all.

Fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence is not al­ways achiev­able. It is not al­ways prac­ti­cal. In most mod­ern fam­i­lies, fi­nan­cial re­ward may shift be­tween part­ners over time.

So, how do we ad­vise cou­ples to nav­i­gate through this is­sue?

. Re­alise that, re­gard­less of your mar­riage con­tract, if one part­ner is mak­ing a ca­reer sacri­fice for the other or for the fam­ily, there needs to be an agree­ment on how that part­ner will be re­warded for that sacri­fice.

. You need to agree on how all of the fi­nan­cial re­sources will be spent. Too of­ten, a wife gets a “salary” from her hus­band to run the house­hold and pay for her per­sonal ex­penses. That wife has no fi­nan­cial power other than her (of­ten mar­ginal) bud­get. If this cou­ple splits, she of­ten has no knowl­edge of the rest of the as­sets and sel­dom has any power over them.

. You both need to know all the de­tails of all the fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions, re­gard­less of your mar­riage con­tract. If you (as the wife) are de­pen­dent on those de­ci­sions for your fi­nan­cial fu­ture, you have the right and the re­spon­si­bil­ity to know. At­tend meet­ings with the fi­nan­cial ad­viser or banker.

. We ad­vise women to re­main in­formed and prefer­ably keep their skills sharp. Women who have stayed in touch with the work­force find it eas­ier to get back into it. Do not let go in to­tal­ity.

. We also en­cour­age women to save or in­vest some of their own money. You will learn by do­ing and not just wit­ness­ing. You will im­prove your knowl­edge about fi­nan­cial prod­ucts.

Fi­nally, fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence is not al­ways prac­ti­cal or even de­sired. In the ex­treme, it is un­help­ful to main­tain a happy re­la­tion­ship. Selfish­ness and a lack of gen­uine care for each other’s well­be­ing of­ten masks as fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence.

I ad­vise cou­ples to be fi­nan­cially sym­bi­otic – a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship. It recog­nises the con­tri­bu­tion of both part­ners and the right of both to ben­e­fit fi­nan­cially from the agree­ment. It re­quires open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tion, and ne­go­ti­at­ing skills.

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