You wouldn’t think that a divorce attorney would be the first person to give advice on how best to prevent a divorce, but then, Bertus Preller, Family and Divorce Law Attorney at Abrahams and Gross Inc. in Cape Town isn’t your average divorce attorney. He is one of the most prominent divorce attorneys based in South Africa, having handled many high-profile divorces of television personalities, artists and sportsmen and being the founder of SA’s largest online divorce platform eDivorce, he is certainly in the mix of everything when it comes to Divorce and Family Law in South Africa.
Preller shared some advice when interviewed by newsbreak.
The success or failure of your marriage relationship may hinge on how well you deal with issues such as finances, sexuality, communication, conflict, parenting, in-laws, leisure time, family of origin, spirituality, expectations, and chores.
When exactly is the best time to begin talking seriously about finances with your partner?
To me, the finance talk is a pretty comprehensive discussion about how you and your partner will handle the money that comes in and goes out of your life. If you come from two different “schools” on this topic, it can be a difficult discussion to have. For someone that’s more of a “spender” they may try to deflect having the conversation at all. You have to talk about finances at two points in the relationship. The first is when you decide to move in together and blend households, and the second is if and when you merge finances. One should never wait when things are starting to get crappy and you’re already bickering about money. When things are harmonious, you sit down and talk about these things; it will engender feelings of love and trust. You just don’t do it when things are in turmoil.
What specifically should be discussed?
If you have credit card debt, what are your thoughts on it? Is it something you view as a part of life, or is it somewhere in the future to get it paid off? If one has it and one doesn’t, will it be paid off jointly?
How do you feel about purchases that you can’t afford? Do you go into debt to get them or do you wait until you can pay for them?
How will your finances be set up? Will everything become joint, or remain separate?
How does each spouses’ salary come into play? If one makes more than the other, does that change the makeup of the financial relationship? Meaning, will that person have more say in financial decisions, or not?
I recently read an interview with Laura Wasser a prominent Divorce Lawyer in the United States who highlighted a couple of good pointers.
“Family. How much time and money are you going to want to spend on existing family? Do we want to start our own?
Hobbies. What about if he is a golfer and he goes on these extremely expensive golf trips and her hobby is painting and she buys a few oil paints every 3 years. I mean, those are the kind of things that need to be discussed.
Travel. I mean, obviously if you guys have been dating for a while, you’re going to know what each of you likes–is he a backpacker? Are you a spa girl? But at the same time, there are plenty of people who say, ‘look, I’m 40 years old, I don’t ever want to fly anything but business class again.’ That should be discussed.
Shopping. I still know women who have been married for years, but when they come home from a shopping trip they hide their bags in the car until their husband has gone out, and then they kind of bring them in piecemeal, and unwrap them and take tags off because they don’t want their husbands to know what they’ve been purchasing. So shopping–what’s the expectation?
Entertaining and Entertainment. If you’re going to have his work people over, your work people over, are you going to cater? Cook? If you have children, what are their birthday parties going to be like? Is he going to be offended if you want to have the birthday party catered or valet parking? And what are the expectations for spending on entertainment outside the home–concerts, movies, theatre, that sort of thing?
Charitable contributions. This is a big one. People like to be able to do what they want to do with their money. Many people have very strong feelings about what kind of charitable contributions they make. It’s important to have a conversation about how much of your income is going be put in there.
Meals. Are you going to cook at home or eat out most nights? If you’re going out, which caliber (and price range) of restaurant? Are you taking packed lunches to work versus doing expensive work lunches or lunches with the girls?
Savings and investments. How much of your income do you want to put away each year? If one person is spending all of their income on clothes, travel, hobbies, and entertaining, and one person is saving it, that may not be quite fair if and when you guys split up, depending on what the law is and what you decided to do.
Estate planning issues. Wills, life insurance policies. This is definitely more a marriage one–something to talk about a little further down the line. Maybe earlier on, you may want to deal with insurance, like auto and health. You don’t want to move in with someone and find out that they don’t have auto or health insurance. That’s a rude awakening.
Gifts. How much are you spending on gifts?
Home décor and home remodelling. Again, what’s the expectation?”
So your advice is taking this list and going through it, just as you would do with a financial planner?
Almost in the same way. Why wouldn’t you have such a conversation with someone you’re sharing your life with instead of with the person who is just getting paid to take care of you?
Why is it so important to have these conversations at the start of a relationship?
You will be amazed sitting from where I sit at the things I hear from people regarding the arguments that they’ve gotten into about finances. Bottom line, these are things that you don’t want to have resentment about later because they haven’t been discussed.
What if the financial circumstances change during the course of the relationship?
You have to constantly re-evaluate your circumstances. Check in either on an annual basis. It’s very interesting to see couples who have been married for a very long time and when and if they split up, one of them would say ‘I just had no idea that the situation was so dire!’ Whether things go up in terms of household economy or down, if you’re in it for the long haul, then you would tighten your belts together, and if things are good, you splurge together. Usually you here the women saying, ‘I’m so embarrassed but you’d have no idea what we spend, I have no idea what my husband makes. I just don’t know. I never worried about it.’ I think if you are going to be in a relationship with someone, you need to be able to share the responsibilities, the knowledge, and the worry. It’s not like it was when our parents or their parents were having lives where the mom worked in the kitchen and the husband worried about it and the wife didn’t know there was any problem. I mean, you should both be aware of what’s going on.
You need to continue to communicate and work together, always remembering you are working towards the same goal. You can do this by:
- Communicating. As soon as you start avoiding talking about money with your spouse, or hiding new purchases then you are going to deviate from the plan, and it will be hard to get back on track.
- Having money discussions. Instead, of ignoring issues with your finances, talk about it with your partner and if something isn’t working, work out why. You’ll then be able to find a solution together, and that is what marriage is all about.
- Monitoring net worth. Your net worth is a good indicator of how well you are sticking to your budgets and financial plans, and as a couple you should revisit your net worth each month to make sure it is going up and not down.
- Revisiting your goals and plans. It is all very well to make plans for the future, but we all know that unexpected events can pop up and change these plans. Therefore, make sure you continue to track your progress towards your goals, and readjust your ideas for the future if necessary.
About Bertus Preller
Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.