How Prepared Are You?

Updated on March 18, 2013
S.E. asks from Landenberg, PA
22 answers

A colleague just got the word that her husband of 23 years met his soul mate on a business trip. She is, naturally, completely freaked out. She thought their marriage was good. Yes, he traveled too often, and he had once cheated on her before, but they had gone to counseling and she thought the marriage was solid. Apparently, whatever he was looking for when he cheated before he now thinks he has found. And he is walking away from his wife and kids and moving to the new love.

Financially, she is terrified. She sidelined her career for years to support the moving for his, but now she is afraid they'll look at her income potential as a reason to avoid alimony.

For some reason, the degree to which she was blind-sided by this, really freaked me out. I think my marriage is great, and as far as I know my spouse has never cheated, but now I wonder if I should be working on being more proactive over my own potential to take care of myself if he should decide to bolt.

How do you do that without messing with the marriage? How prepared should you be?

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

My own spouse works in a dangerous field so we have always been super prepared for death or disability. He is kind of anal about that (and I love him for it.) I just kept thinking that we were prepared for those disasters but not at all really for him suddenly changing his mind and wanting out. Then I talked to him about it. Turns out HE has actually done things to make sure I would be OK no matter what. He said keeping my finances in my name and other things we had done together originally but I had sort of forgotten about that he did to prepare me for his death would work as well if he left. He kept reassuring me he had no desire to go anywhere, but loved me enough to make sure I would be OK if I left him! I think, as usual, he is right. Loving some one means not just trusting them and giving yourself over to the relationship, it means always paving the way for them to manage without you. We ended up revisiting our plans for what HE would do if I died. (BTW he was furious with our insurer when she wanted to insure me based solely on my take home salary instead of on the work I did. you would think she would want to sell us a bigger policy...) Life changes, things happen. I don't think emotionally you can be prepared for everything. Financially you can try....

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answers from Chicago on

My worst fear is not divorce but death and we try to prepare for that as much as possible. I actually handle all of the finances, and I fear for my family if I were to no longer around. So I try to let my husband in every few months, just so he knows how to continue, just in case.

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answers from Sioux City on

I think in some way preparing for your husband to step out is kind of like having one foot outside of the marriage. You aren't truly committed to the relationship. I have a degree and I know that should something happen to my husband I could support my kids but I would never prepare for my husband to leave me.

Bug, that's funny. I don't work outside the home. I have been home since the day I said, "I do." People are more important than things. I believe true feminism is being the woman that God has asked you to be. God gave me a bunch of beautiful children and so I am called to be Mother and wife first. We live a very humble life and I love it. I have been without money all my life. I love being resourceful and creating a home from what we have without dwelling on what we do not have.

Maybe you are referring to the other D. K.. Often times we are on the opposite side of the spectrum.

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answers from Minneapolis on

We should be completely prepared. We should have life insurance, disability insurance, and "divorce insurance" in the form of an income or investments (money, education, skills). I've always felt that I needed to be 100% capable of supporting myself and any children I had. We can't count on anything. I don't feel I'm pessimistic, just realistic. I work in Outplacement, counseling people who have been laid off from their jobs. It's utterly amazing to me how many people are totally blind-sided by the loss of their job, as if it never occurred to them it could happen.

Our husbands/partners can decide to leave us, or die, or be permanently disabled at any time. (I have a SAHM friend who is living through the sudden permanent severe disability of her husband, and the financial impact is incredible. They had a huge life insurance policy on him, but NO disability.)

I don't want to be "blind-sided" by any event that I could have prepared for. I want to be able to take care of myself and my child no matter what happens. I don't see why being, or becoming, self-sufficient should be "messing with a marriage". If it is, then the marriage has issues, IMO.

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answers from San Francisco on

My mom was widowed when she was 35 and I was 2. Because of how I grew up, I have always been prepared to take care of myself. When I had kids, I factored that in. I would not have had children if I knew I would not be able to take care of them in case something happened to my husband. That meant I did not try to have children until after I had finished my education and achieved job security. If something happened and my husband were not in the picture, we would survive. It would be hard, but I know I could handle it. A lot of other parts of my life are not as organized as this, but this one, yeah, I can handle it.
I don't think being prepared messes with a marriage. You can talk together with a relationship counselor and with a financial planner. Do this in the open with you husband and you will be fine.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I think all adults should be prepared for the end of a marriage - we call if financial planning. Hopefully it will not happen until we are old and the kids have long ago left the nest. But you never know. The above situation could happen. More likely - one partner could die or become permanently and expensively disabled. Or if only one partner works, that partner could lose their job and join the ranks of the long term unemployed.

DH and I prepare by being equal partners in the first place. By both having careers and both being caregivers. We both work full time (4 days a week is standard FT in our field). We are equal partners in caring for our son. Before he was in school and summers we each had/have a day alone with him each week and the three of us spend weekends together. We both have contributed equally to our home, our business and our retirement. This makes our marriage stronger, not weaker.

It is sad that Amy feels she needs to be sarcastic/tongue in cheek about her first paragraph. Because in reality - every adult should be able to support his or her family. It is not only what happens if a marriage fails. What about a spouse dying? Becomes permanently and expensively disabled? It seems that we have learned very little from the feminist movement.

ETA - The feminist movement was NOT so women would have a choice about whether to work or not. The feminist movement began with the belief that women were entitled to the same careers and lives as men. It recognized that many many women were unfulfilled by their limited lives as wives and mothers - without any recognition that they were people independent of their families.

It is a much more recent back pedaling interpretation of the feminist movement to state that the goal is for women to have a choice to work or not. This came about when the term 'feminist' became a scary one in a more conservative era. Per Bug - 'feminism means the wife has a choice of whether to work or not'. Of course this choice removes any choice men have in the matter - they now have an obligation to support another adult and the concomitant loss of parenting opportunity this additional burden causes- if this adult exercises her 'choice'. There is quite a bit of feminist scholarship on this newer movement.

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answers from San Diego on

Although I would be devastated, My children and I would be ok (barely) financially with not help from him. I have always tried to make sure that I/we would be ok on my income alone just in case something happened. I have also always taught that to my girls. NEVER financially depend on another person.

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answers from Williamsport on

Everyone should be prepared for this. They should have never been dependent on a man while birthing and caring for kids (said tongue in cheek). Their resume should be up to speed at all times. They should be fully educated with lots of work experience with one foot in the work force at all times so they can jump right into a job that clears a whole household's worth of bills over and above daycare costs at the drop of a hat, and they should have done spread sheets before having kids to make sure they could afford their whole lives under any scenario...We should all pursue careers and monetary strategies while being full-time parents just in case our husbands cheat or leave. Just like we should all have 8 months in an emergency fund aside from separate savings accounts and separate retirement accounts and air-tight wills and life insurance policies and disaster coverage and health insurance and college funds and burial funds and diversified investments.......How many people actually have all of this stuff...?

The 1%.

I worked and supported myself for 17 years before making the "mistake" of trying the "supported wife" routine while having babies.

I'm in your friends position at a different phase (not blind-sided at all the second time), with a question I've been writing up for a while...stay tuned...I'm so sorry for your friend. Yes, we SHOULD all be prepared. But how possible is it? Not always possible at all. But yes, if at all possible, be prepared and don't be dependent on anyone ever.

***If she sidelined her career-as in shelved it, they won't look at what she might hypothetically make IF she was working. They'll only look at what she earns or not-unless he gets an AWESOME lawyer and she gets none. Fortunately my lawyer (in PA) said that since my husband was supporting us at the time he decided to bugger off and act like a deserter (and he didn't even physically leave yet), he will have to continue to do so. The catch is that his income is so sporadic I know he won't really be able to. Be sure she gets a GOOD lawyer.

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answers from Sacramento on

Well, not that I think my husband would ever cheat, but I am the breadwinner, I make most of the educational etc decisions for our children, I pay the bills. I am as prepared as I can be. My real worry, besides the possible trauma to the children, would be child care before and after school.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I don't think anyone "sees it coming."
The best plan from young adulthood?
A. Choose well when choosing a mate
B. Never depend entirely on a man instead of bei g able to stand on your own two feet. "B" includes several points:
1. Finish school
2. Have a career, or at least a "job" that could support you & your kids, even if you've taken a break to raise kids
3. Keep current on testing, certifications, etc. and keep your feet wet in your field
4. If you think marrying & placing all of the responsibility in a man is the answer--think again! This includes women who get higher education in the firm I'd an MRS degree--bad idea
C. Live on less than you make and manage money wisely, minimizing debt, no matter your income--single OR married!

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answers from San Antonio on

My mother drilled into me that a woman must be able to take care of herself and her children. This from a career homemaker, who had a college degree and could have gone into her field at anytime...but never needed to work. She often told me that it was important for a woman to be in a position to support her family (she was speaking about if your husband died...but divorce works too).

So, I guess that I was always concerned about supporting myself...and although I have been a SAHM for eight years...I could go back into the work force and make a decent living. We might not live at the level that we do now...but my kids and I would have a roof, food and essentials.

I am honestly more concerned about being widowed than divorced.

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answers from Miami on

With 23 years of marriage, he will have to pay spousal support for a certain length of time. She needs a good lawyer who will take the guy to the cleaners. And I mean it too.

I'm sorry that your friend was in fantasy land in regards to her marriage. He had already proved he would have an affair and she didn't heed the warnings. She should have been putting money away for a long time, paying herself, as it were, for being his wife and taking care of the kids. I hope she will get to the bank NOW and take money out of it and put it in an account at a different bank.


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answers from Washington DC on

i'm not prepared at all!
whenever i've needed to take care of myself i've always been able to do so. i suppose if it happened, i'd figure it out.
it would be a tougher call now, though. i have very few marketable skills, and at 53 i'm not in a marketable demographic.
i guess i'd better hope the ol' man sticks around for a few decades more.

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answers from Los Angeles on

With what I know now, I'd say every couple have their own retirement or savings in their own name, if the husband is the one making money, he should be putting money in there for the wife just as he has put money into it for himself. The point is to make sure in any event (divorce, death...) both have something to quickly access. If it happens to be a divorce, the man can say that he's been paying for that and will not have to pay alimony and therefore secure both him and her.

As for your question, just start. Tell your husband you want to try saving for your own retirement so both of you are doing it. It's good practice to be able to handle finances. You should work on it together, you with his, and him with yours. Put both of you in a good place for the future together and not think of it as a safety net for divorce. That's just a bonus. In general I think all women should have her own bank account she handles on her own. When it comes to us, I do more buying (meaning I do most of the day to day shopping). That puts my account at a higher risk than his where he just pays for mortgage and bills online. My purchases are at malls and shops and fairs. It's dangerous for the larger account to be used so if anything you guys set a budget and put that into the spending account. Just get used to handling things because the worse that can happen is NOT divorce... the worse that can happen is death.

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answers from Rochester on

I think if you "prepare" for something horrible to happen then you are not really expecting your marriage to succeed in the first place.
If you are in a good, happy, stable, and loving marriage, then there is no need to "prepare" because there shouldn't be anything to prepare for.
Now, I think everyone should be able to take care of themselves regardless though.
ETA- Well said Dana K.. I agree 100%+ with what you wrote.

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answers from Kansas City on

I'm not prepared for my husband cheating and/or leaving me. That would come completely out of left field. (Although the panic attack he had yesterday when he told me he wanted our next baby to be born in March and I told him he'd have to knock me up around June/July was pretty funny to me.) My big fear is that he'll die and I'll be unprepared, so I've got a lot of ideas/plans for what would happen in that eventuality. He knows that this is my fear and it doesn't bother him.

I did have a passing thought the other day that with my new job I could probably afford to live on my own if I had to, but it was nothing that I prepare for and I'm not even sure why I thought it. When I told my husband he rolled his eyes at me, asking if there was something he needed to know since I was now prepared for him to die AND leave me. But I just really hate the feeling of helplessness of not being prepared for weird eventualities.

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answers from Washington DC on

She needs to get informed and work from facts, not fear. Look out for herself and her kids, because he certainly didn't when he was looking for someone else. Don't play "fair" because he isn't.

I don't go borrowing trouble but I keep my own accounts and am joint on major accounts because if DH got hit by a bus, I need access to pay the bills. The life insurance is also there to pay the house off if he died. So even if you and your DH are solid, what if one of you died? A SAHP is still valuable, and I am insured as well, because DH would need to find daycare for DD.

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answers from Washington DC on

I've been with my husband since Jr High. 25 years later we're still going strong. I don't believe that being prepared for anything equates to one foot out the door. My husband and I remain committed to each other and our family.

To me, "knowing" that your spouse will always be there is a slippery slope to taking that person for granted. Do I believe and hope my husband and I will be together til death do us part? I sure do! Are we prepared to fly solo in the event of a divorce or death? Yes, we both are.

We do not use credit cards at all. The only purchase made on credit is our home. We shop using coupons and discount codes. We are not rich by any means. We pay close attention to when/how we spend our money. If we need something we get it, if we want something we save for it and pay cash.

We do not take extravagant vacations every year or trade our vehicles in every other year. We do not wear expensive brand names unless I find a great clearance deal. I could care less about the latest fad in handbags, shoes, or clothing for myself. Our girls are dressed to the nines in clothing that I've gotten great deals on or found at consignment sales.

We both work full time as well as sharing in all of the household chores. We raise our girls together sharing equal duties in that department as well.
Having two incomes affords us the opportunity to provide private education for our children along with every other necessity and many of the "wants" too.

We live within our means and do not extend ourselves beyond that. Of course we hope to always be together but none of us can predict the future. I do not see that as a matter of trust issues. We see it as ensuring our family's future no matter what may come our way. If one of us walked away tomorrow we both could survive providing separate households for our girls while maintaining our family. Together or not we'd still be a family unit doing whatever is best for our girls.

Neither of us would be under an enormous financial strain. Most importantly, there would be no need to quarrel over money, go after each others retirement accounts, or argue about who gets what. Our focus could remain on our children's well being.

Being prepared isn't just about divorce or death. What if one of us lost our job tomorrow? We can live on one income and get by. We choose to have two incomes to provide a better future for ourselves and our children.

So many marriages succumb to financial strain even in the best of times. Eliminating debt by living within your means alleviates all that unnecessary strain and contention in a relationship. The peace and comfort that comes with knowing you and your children are financially secure in any situation is priceless.

Peace and Blessings,
T. B

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answers from Hartford on

I'm really curious as to why she was blindsided and thought she had a good, solid marriage. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior and this man is a serial cheater. She was living in a fantasy world if she thought that based on his past behavior, she should simply forget what had happened and not prepare herself "just in case." Forgive? By all means. But never, ever forget.

That's not blaming her for being in her current situation. Her husband clearly took advantage of her trust and love and her willingness to keep giving him chances.

But now she needs to get herself a good lawyer that has her and her childrens' best interests at heart. She needs to make sure that she has the support of friends and family, and get to a therapist for herself and the children too. She needs to establish custody and child support ASAP. She needs to make sure he doesn't clean out their joint bank accounts and get copies of statements, and open her own accounts and put half into them.

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answers from Boston on

In theory I am financially prepared. I am "the breadwinner" in my marriage - some years I make double what my husband does and my job has all of our benefits. I have a pretty nice retirement account, own my car, do all of our finances, have investment accounts, am on the mortgage, etc. There is nothing around the house that my husband does that I can't do - I know how to start the lawn mower and snow blower, put diesel in the oil tank and re-start it if we run out of oil unexpectedly, open and close the pool, etc.

That said, the simple reality is that I would not be able to support our 4 kids on my own without a serious change of quality of life. We live a pretty lean life anyway with both of our incomes. If it were just my income, we'd be screwed. I would have to short sell my house, which would ruin my credit, and try to rent a 4 bedroom house in a poorer town, which would mean pulling my kids out of their schools and away from the friends they know and love. That's if I could still have my SD live with me, which would be unlikely even though I am most equipped to provide a home for her. Chances are she'd end up with my husband or - God forbid - her biological mother, in another state. My kids would also have to give up most of their beloved activities because I wouldn't be able to handle the logitistics of 4 kids being 4 different places nor would I be able to afford everything. Hockey alone is about $2K a year per player. My husband would go for 50/50 custody to avoid paying child support even though there's no way he'd be able to afford renting a place large enough for them to spend more than a night or two at a time at, but my FIL would probably help him out and he'd get joint custody, no child support. With my luck I'd end up paying him alimony.

We've had a troubled marriage so obviously I've thought about it a lot. I suppose that if one day he just decided that he was leaving there would be nothing I could do about it but short of that, we're still working on things because splitting up would really turn our kids' lives upside down and that's not a price we're willing to pay at this time.

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answers from Houston on

How sad. her husband is a world class jerk - so selfish. I hope she gets back on her feet.

I think every woman should always be involved in her finances and not leave it up to her husband. That is incredibly irresponsible, esp if the husband leaves her or dies. Being involved in your finances is a great way to empower yourself and not freak out about the future.

Everything is in both our names. We can't make a legal or financial move without each other's signatures. Its not that we anticipate breaking up or don't trust one another - its more as protection of our child and assets from devious family members. (we love our family but we have a few bad apples on both sides)

I have done what I can to keep somewhat of a career. I know many women who aren't in the same boat, for whatever reason. Now is a good time to continue or develop new work skills, even if it means taking a computer class at the library. Anything you can do today to make yourself valuable and marketable in the workplace should the need arise is always a good idea.

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answers from Amarillo on

I am as prepared as I ever will be. My husband had a blood clot on the brain 5 years back and was medi-vacced out and had surgery in the last 15 minutes of the golden hour. The doctor told him that he pulled the clot out and he came back. Our finances were very tight but we were able to make it with my working and then his military retirement and social security diability as he cannot work any longer..

So it is best to have a career and financial stability of your own. You can combine finances being married but you should have your own. It is not about not thinking that the marriage will not survive it is being realistic about what you would have to do in case of death/or divorce and you have to move on in life.

My children are grown and on their own so I don't have to worry about caring for them.

the other S.



answers from New York on

that's a scary situation. am i prepared? i have two degrees but have not been working for a few years now. if i had to, i could find a job for insurance sake and some income, but we have savings and i would go for half his retirement. i think though he'd be miserable without me so why worry.

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