Archive for Divorce Planning

Nothing is Everything

I’m a fool for doing this, but I do read some comments on Facebook posts. I saw a rather touching one recently, where a young woman noted, “When you have kids, they’re your everything”. Boy, do I know what she means. In my uber-Mommy phase, I went so far as to wear a corduroy jumper  appliquéd with a teddy bear carrying a Christmas tree, just because it would delight my then-little daughter. Luckily there are no pictures.

Over time, I’ve also heard people declare their spouse, lover, job, and pets to be “everything”. Then there are the magic bullets we are asked  to believe in: the right eating program (vegan, low carb, low fat, clean eating, snore…), the cure for allergies, the perfect drug, the cure for pain—cancer—aging… Or the magic investment program that will make you a trillionaire without risk or worry or much effort on your part…gold, market timing, 1000s of methods of stock selection, buy and hold.

None of this is right or true.

Being the omniscient person that I am, I actually have the right method: diversify!

Let’s go with the personal, first. People who make kids, or a spouse, or any other person their everything tend to lose, not only that person, but just about everything else. So in the event of a divorce, or death, or just the time of life when they need to get their claws out of the other individual, they find they have nothing left.  My mom was my dad’s everything for more than 50 years; he disintegrated after her death. Kids grow up and you’re stuck with the spouse you used to have. Or you find yourself at 50, with no career, no wardrobe, out of date competencies, and a divorce. Sure, you love being with that adorable toddler, but make yourself get out without them. By 12 or 13, they won’t want to be your everything. I used to have a sign on my bedroom door:

Are you bleeding? Is the house on fire? Then, don’t knock.

Worked great with my kid. Not so much with the ex, which is at least one of the dozens of reasons he’s an ex.  And BTW, for heaven’s sake stop using your kid, dog, or cat as your FB profile picture. Your own identity will always be important.

All the magical bullet medicine is just one of the reasons I support universal healthcare. Hardly a day passes without some miracle nutritional scheme or magic cure on my Facebook feed.  The years since the discovery of penicillin and polio vaccines have made us all worship at the magic pill church—that there’s an easy cure for everything if we just swallow the (highly profitable to pharma and biotech companies) right pill or program of eating. Universal health care might put some restraints and cost controls on medipharma’s tendency to nuke everything, and if one bomb doesn’t work, 7 or 8 will be better. I’m way more worried about getting too much intervention than not enough.

Hearteningly, I am also beginning to see articles cautioning how over-medicated, endocrine disrupted, and un-resistant to bugs our bodies have become. Michael Pollan has offered us probably the most sensible advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. No mention of juice cleanses or meal kits. Simple diversification.

And finally we get to my corner of expertise—investments. Scratch any two investment managers and you’ll find three opinions on what the correct investments are. What is the best allocation, the best asset classes, the best tax home? Does all this matter? Sure, that’s what we get paid for, and a good allocation can make a difference, a small difference but spendable in a big enough portfolio. But I’m here to declare something radical: the biggest difference is selecting a decent diversification and sticking with it.

That can be a target date fund. Seriously. I have some real problems and reservations about them, but it’s way better than putting all your money in the S&P 500 fund—which is still better than picking a stock or two that you’re sure is hot—or the so-called stable value fund. A target date fund gives you some diversity.

But should you put 50% of your stock allocation in U.S. and 50% in international? 2/3 US, 1/3 international? 10 funds instead of 12? In the big scheme of things, I can fiddle with allocation projections to give you just about any result you want, given your risk tolerance. But the best answer is—it doesn’t matter nearly as much as long as you diversify.

Accumulate something you haven’t spent on meal kits and Tofurky, then pick an easy, diversified fund. Once you get into 6 figures, you can start to benefit from selecting your own allocation—the small difference in specific allocations will start to be visible. And even though it’s heresy to many financial planners who salute the flag of mutual funds, I don’t think you’ll necessarily end up in a trailer by the river if you buy a few individual stocks. But don’t make those your everything, either.

Caveat: no specific investment advice is intended. Your individual investments should be selected based on your goals, risk tolerance, and other individual factors.



Should you stay home with the kids?

I did, and don’t regret it for a minute. It was tons of fun and a chance to do all the things I hadn’t done in my own childhood. Staying home with your children is not primarily a financial decision, but it does have some profound financial consequences. So as you are making decisions about whether you will be a stay-at-home parent for some portion of your child-rearing years, here are some financial points to consider.

  1. Consider your Social Security benefits. Sure, collecting Social Security seems like a million years away. But since benefits are based on your entire record, taking into account your 35 highest earning years, taking 20 years, or even 10 years, out of your lifetime earnings record can hit hard on your future benefits. (see more information here). Stay-at-home parents who later get a divorce can have a much bleaker retirement picture than someone who has worked consistently. If you have been married at least 10 years, (or stay married), you will be eligible for spousal benefits—generally, ½ your spouse’s primary benefit. However, this may be much less than if you had maintained employment at a relatively high earning job.
  2. Consider disability benefits. If you do not have a recent work history and become disabled, you may not be eligible for Social Security disability payments. If you are not employed, you will probably not be able to get private disability insurance either, since generally this insurance is based on earning. There are some ways to approximate disability insurance and protect you, but it’s complicated—contact me to discuss this if the situation applies to you.
  3. Evaluate your life insurance. Many people have life insurance primarily through their workplace. If you are not employed outside the home, consider what replacing your services would cost your family, and investigate appropriate life insurance.
  4. Be careful about working for your spouse’s business for free.  If the spouse owned the business before marriage, you are probably not going to be entitled to any share of the business’s worth in the event of divorce. Also, you are not building up Social Security benefits. Finally, if you are unpaid you will not have an employment record should you need to borrow money, secure credit, or purchase disability protection.
  5. Keep some credit in your own name (not joint). Too many people decide to cancel all those old individual-account credit cards in favor of joint accounts when they marry. Or let those accounts lapse over disuse. In the event of the spouse’s death or disability, or divorce, a stay-at-home parent may not be able to qualify for a credit card. Always keep one major credit card as an individual account, and use it from time to time to keep it active. The easiest cards to get are department and discount stores, but one with a significant limit that will allow you to book travel, rent a car, or pay for a hotel or emergency daily expenses is the one to have.
  6. Know how staying home will affect your student loans. If you are on a repayment forgiveness plan because of working for a non-profit, your loans may kick back to full repayment. Be sure you calculate what this might cost you. I have seen cases where leaving non-profit employment would increase loan repayment by the mid-five figures!
  7. Start a small business and run it like a business. It’s much easier to take a part-time business to full-time than it is to start from scratch.
  8. Keep your network and your professional contacts alive. Same reason as #7.
  9. Take every opportunity to upgrade your professional skills. At some point the baby goes to college. You will have the rest of your life. Upgrading skills keeps you current and marketable. Most people will eventually return to work.

Sure, this is disaster planning, and my sincere hope is that you will never have such a disaster. All decisions require weighing the choices and consequences, however, so do some planning and–enjoy your children.




Domestic abuse and money

English: Boxing Gloves Deutsch: Boxhandschuhe

It’s about money, whether the headlines are horrific cases of bride burning, or a knockout in an elevator with an NFL sports star. Despite the myriad reasons women have been posting on Why I Stayed, many of them boil down to not enough money to leave.

Sure, many of us can answer because I loved him, but I think that the next time he smacks you around, if you had, say, a cool $5 million in the bank you’d think twice about whether love was enough. If you have children, or haven’t worked in a while, or your spouse is making more money than you ever saw before—more than you have any hope of ever making, well, you’ll try to make it work.

Money gives you a much better chance at safety, from beginning to end. When I got a court order of protection, the process server rang my husband’s doorbell a time or two, even though he was living 4 doors away and I could see he was home. What a surprise that he never answered. No, despite what you see on TV, court process servers don’t sit outside waiting, or go to any of the other places you could tell them the husband would be—they never even asked me. But when I filed divorce papers, I paid a private server, and the service was delivered in two days (they nailed my ex at church).

If you have money, you can pay for a better hotel to move into (rather than trying to find a bed at a shelter). You can stay at a residence inn until you find an apartment with a doorman or a security system. You can write a check for the security deposit. You can buy a mattress and some basic furniture. You can eat out until you equip a kitchen. You won’t have to make the humiliating move of begging family, and you won’t need to be somewhere where he can easily find you.

If you have money, you can choose a good lawyer—your pick of lawyers. And if you have money, that attorney won’t be hounding you to find a way to pay, and won’t jettison you because the money ran out and the settlement is too far away. While I know good, caring, and savvy divorce attorneys, like most of the rest of the world, you’ll get more attention if you have money. If you don’t like that lawyer, you can afford to fire him or her and hire another one, with no fear about a second retainer fee.

You can pay for health insurance. For many women, finding themselves off the policy with no employment is terrifying and can certainly be life threatening.

With money, you can pay for the therapy you and your kids are going to need. Without money, you’ll stay and hope for the best, or that you can make it okay for the kids. Or maybe you’ll be talked into couple’s therapy, so the abuser can find another opportunity to make it (“at least partly”) about you. With decent therapy, you can restore your self-esteem (which most abusers are expert at taking apart) and find out you weren’t an idiot or a professional victim or a weakling. Like all victims of abuse and bullying, it had nothing to do with anything you did.

With money, more people will believe you. Most domestic abuse victims should be prepared to lose most of their friends. Maybe, maybe if the guy looks like a thug, is twice your size, and smells in court, some people will give you the benefit of a doubt. But if he’s charming, employed, and can speak a coherent sentence, people will believe him and not you. Particularly if you come off as a teensy bit angry—I mean, why should you be a little angry? Well, obviously you’re a bitch who drove the nice guy to distraction. An abuser’s modus operandi is to fool people into believing that he’s not abusive or that he had a lapse and will never do it again. After all, you believed it so why shouldn’t mostly everyone else? He’s a charmer, that one.

If you, too, can pay to look good, more people will believe you. Go to court in a nice suit or dress. Have your face dermabraded and your teeth fixed, with the confidence that money brings, and your credibility takes a pole vault. Nobody is going to say without him she’d be nothing.

If you start talking about what happened? Well, quiet, you’re embarrassing people. Be noble and shut up (so he can go on abusing you by silencing you). When you have money, you’re way more able to speak out. With money, far fewer people are going to give you parenting or behavioral advice.

If you have money, your kids’ college will be taken care of, you won’t be facing retirement on ½ his Social Security, and you can keep the house or get another one.

So, my guess is that at least one of these reasons is why Janay Palmer Rice is staying for the time being. Does anyone believe they’ll still be together 20 years from now? Given the money involved, and the alternatives open to her, maybe the marriage wasn’t such a dumb idea. As long as she doesn’t pay with her life.