The Lessons I’ve Learned From My Friends’ Expensive Divorces - Kanebridge News
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The Lessons I’ve Learned From My Friends’ Expensive Divorces

So many couples I know have broken up, or contemplating it. It has given me a lot to think about for my own relationship.

Tue, Mar 5, 2024 10:20amGrey Clock 5 min

My girlfriend and I treat the outside of our apartment fridge like one big collage.

In the past few years, after attending wedding after wedding after wedding, we have unwittingly created a standing scrapbook of “Save the Date!” magnets and floral-patterned invitations, among other gilded mementos. But recently, we decided it was time to give the fridge collage a refresh. And in doing so, we realized something depressing: The majority of the happy-looking couples pictured were either now divorced, breaking up or in the process of seriously re-evaluating their relationship.

As a friend, I’ve learned so much from my newly divorced pals, and I admire the resilience, optimism and strength they demonstrated in the face of their breakups. But as a personal-finance columnist, I have also taken a lot of money lessons from these new divorcées—and I believe the insight is relevant to more than just other married couples.

One friend was able to rely on her prenuptial agreement to save her close to $100,000 in the wake of a speedy split; another woman I know escaped a financially abusive relationship with less than a grand to her name remaining in her savings account.

Darla Gale , a California-based therapist and founder of Heartstrings Counseling, says she often talks with clients about making meaning from these relationships and the accompanying financial fallout. Sharing lessons and experiences is one way to do so. “Money comes up a lot in my practice, because financial hardships are one of the reasons for divorce,” she says. “It can be very empowering to say, ‘I can do this on my own. I just didn’t have the tools to do it on my own.’ ”

Together isn’t always better

The dissolution of a relationship can bring a host of financial lessons that shape how we talk about money in our relationships going forward—whether we were the bride, the groom or the smiling person snapping a selfie with the cake.

In my previous reporting, I’ve researched quite a bit about just how beneficial it can be for couples to combine finances. Studies show this enables them to maximise their potential to grow wealth and even leads to both partners feeling happier in the relationship.

But after witnessing their first wave of divorces, many younger people are embracing a different approach. “I’m doing a lot of prenuptial agreements for people who are younger, and they are for the most part wanting to keep their money separate, which is interesting and very different from the way prenups were done 10 to 20 years ago,” says Lisa Zeiderman , a New York-based divorce lawyer.

Gale says she now often sees couples doing both: sharing expenses in one joint account, for example, while still maintaining separate funds “so it doesn’t feel like one person is more in control.”

Inspired by this approach, my girlfriend and I have adopted something similar. To save for a down payment on a future house, we contribute near-equal amounts to a joint high-yield savings account that we opened together. We also share a credit card to use when we buy groceries, pay our dog’s vet bills or handle other shared expenses.

But at the same time, we both maintain separate checking accounts and saving accounts, for our own individual needs. This way, should disaster ever strike, we’re both able to maintain a level of personal autonomy and build our own lives anew.

After all, as Gale put it, “Autonomy equals equality.”

Older is better…and worse

Here’s the good news I’ve learned while looking at divorce through a personal (and personal-finance) lens: On the whole, millennial couples are actually divorcing at lower rates than people of previous generations at similar ages.

Economist Brett House , a professor of professional practice in the economics Division at Columbia Business School, attributes this decline to two important things: Millennials are getting married at later ages. And they’re likelier to have received more education by the age of their first marriage.

But waiting to tie the knot doesn’t protect you against the financial fallout of a divorce—if anything, marrying later means both parties might have had more time to accumulate more assets that could lead to financial conflict once split.

“People may be more mature and more aware of themselves and clearer about what they want from a relationship than was the case in earlier years,” House says.

Gale recommends clearly stating those financial priorities at the start of a relationship, when everything still seems rosy. “Don’t be sneaky about it, but go into the relationship and say ‘I’m going to have a separate bank account, whether that is for going out or having a ‘fun’ fund but autonomy is really important to me,’ ” she says.

And watch your potential partner’s reaction to such a conversation—that can also inform your decision to build a life with them.

Don’t compromise your career

In her many years advising women and working in divorce courts, Zeiderman says she often gives young to-be-married women the same advice: Don’t lose sight of your career.

Zeiderman has seen firsthand how difficult it is for many people, in compromising their own professional trajectories, to rebuild their earnings post-divorce.

“So many decide, frankly, to let the other person build their career and then at the end of the day, you cannot make up for this in spousal support, you cannot make up for it in the distribution of their assets,” she said. “Stay in the workforce. You must.”

We like to think that is easy to do, but in practice, both partners prioritising their careers isn’t easy.

This summer, I’ll have just embarked upon a new career as a freelance writer and podcast host; at the same time, my girlfriend, also a journalist, will be traveling throughout France covering the summer Olympics. We talked in advance about how important this summer will be for us, work-wise, and agreed that although our relationship—and our patience!—may be tested, affording each other some grace during this high-pressure time will go a long way. Building our careers will benefit our household bottom line, but it’s also insurance for both of us.

The ‘what if we broke up’ talk

“The forethought is easier to do when things are good,” Zeiderman told me. And her words stuck with me.

I thought back to the dozens of conversations I’ve had with my divorced friends. So many of them regretted never discussing money goals, habits or strategies with their partners in advance of marriage. Far too often, they said, they worried bringing up finances would dampen the excitement of the honeymoon phase; then, months or years later, the unsaid words curdled and soured with resentment.

My girlfriend and I keep a standing monthly “money date” on the calendar. We make the time to curl up on the couch, just the two of us, and review our household finances. For us, that looks like going over the bank statement and checking on progress made toward our financial goals. On past money dates, we’ve compared prices for coming purchases, paid down debt and even shared how things stand in our separate personal accounts.

No one likes paying bills or calculating debt totals, but we work hard to make the process as painless as possible. But this coming month, I think the topic I have planned may be our most uncomfortable one yet.

That’s because, inspired by Zeiderman and Gale, this time I have something particularly “special” planned for our money date: the “What if we broke up?” conversation.

I want to plan out how we would divide our shared assets and then put these details in writing—together. If something were to happen in the future, we could hopefully put aside our differences to rely on this plan and make the detangling of our finances much simpler.

Luckily for me, my girlfriend knows me well enough by now to see the romance hiding in this gesture.


What a quarter-million dollars gets you in the western capital.

Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.

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Milestone birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, and graduations are momentous life occasions that some like to mark with large and elaborate celebrations.

And the deep-pocketed set are still in catch-up mode after a party-throwing standstill during the pandemic that went on for many months during the height of the lockdowns and social distancing. Bashes since then have become ever more extravagant and experiential—mere get-togethers, they’re not.

Hosts are also seeking any excuse to throw an event and having parties with the same “wow” factor for far less significant reasons, or for micro-occasions as they’re called, and even “just because,” according to luxury event planners who work with this elite set.

Colin Cowie, a planner based in New York and Miami who regularly orchestrates multimillion-dollar gatherings and was behind Jennifer Lopez’s and Ben Affleck’s wedding, calls it the “event revolution.”

“Large-scale events have become the norm,” Cowie says. “The wealthy, who are used to celebrating their life moments in a big way couldn’t do anything during the pandemic and are now going all out for anything they host.”

His company, Colin Cowie Lifestyle, plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid and has a lineup booked for the next two years. An example includes an upcoming million-dollar dinner party in the Hamptons simply to socialise with friends. It’s an affair with free-flowing Dom Perignon, centre-cut filet mignons, and unlimited caviar.

Colin Cowie Lifestyle plans 30% more events today than pre-Covid
Calen Rose

Other high-end planners also attribute the rise of over-the-top celebrations to a “live life to the fullest” attitude that’s become prevalent in the last few years. But they say that these parties aren’t necessarily about spending more than before—rather, they’re increasingly creative, thoughtful, and, with respect to weddings, longer.

Lynn Easton, a Charleston-based planner, says that her typical wedding used to span two days and entailed a rehearsal dinner plus the wedding itself. “Now, it’s a five-day bonanza with events like a groomsman lunch,” Easton says.

Easton also plans glitzy milestone birthdays such as one for a 60th where the host flew 60 friends and family to a private island. Dinners were multi-hour affairs in various locations around the isle with the showpiece being a five-course meal where the food was presented on dishes that were hand-carved in ice.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, based in New York and Miami, says that, in a new precedent, the weddings she’s tapped to design kick off with striking welcome meals. She recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden. Elements included potted herbs, lemon trees, vintage olive oil cans, ceramic plates, and table cards presented with palm leaves in limoncello cans.

Another planner, Victoria Dubin, recently planned an al fresco rehearsal dinner at the Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s that recreated a Tuscan garden.
Aletiza Photo

Pashmina shawls hung from chairs to keep guests warm, and freshly baked pizzas and Aperol spritzes were in ready supply throughout the evening.

Stacy Teckin, the groom’s mother, hosted the party with her husband, Ian, and says she sought to pull off a dinner that made an impression on their guests. “The wedding was delayed because of Covid, and now that we had the chance to celebrate, we wanted to go all out,” Teckin says. “I’m not sure we would have done that before.”

In another example, acclaimed planner Norma Cohen threw a wild safari-themed bar mitzvah for a client.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon
Norma Cohen Productions

The memorable occasion transpired at Spring Studios in downtown Manhattan and saw 400 guests be transported to the African plains: Details included mammoth replicas of wildlife such as giraffes and elephants, servers in safari themed attire, and entertainment dressed like giraffes. The event was one of several over-the-top parties Cohen’s arranged recently.

A four-day wedding in Paris where the ceremony was in a historic chateau and the host paid for guests to stay at Hotel Crillon, one of the city’s most luxurious properties, also ranks high in Cohen’s memory.

Then there’s a destination party in London that Cohen planned for a client who was turning 40. It as a six-day affair with dinners at swanky spots such as Cipriani, the Arts Club, and Cecconi’s at Soho House. The finale was Lancaster House, a mansion in St. James, where guests were entertained by cabaret dancers from the famed Ibiza club Lio Ibiza and feasted on prime rib and lamb chops and imbibed on Krug champagne.

“People today don’t want to host events,” Cohen says. “They want experiences that take you away to a different place and make you forget that the real world exists.”