Deeply in love and ready to make a lifetime commitment; couples marrying for the first time may tell you they don’t think much about anything else. For better or for worse are words brushed over because “for worse” doesn’t bring a lot of concern. "All you need is love," sang John Lennon and Paul McCartney (Paul was married three times).
For many Americans, the first marriage ends in divorce. There is a margin of error in the common notion that 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. Statistics have shown that the number is likely more than 40 percent for first-time marriages and climbs for subsequent ones.
But why? Moreover, how can the newly remarried husband and wife keep the lifetime bond intact, as intended?
Despite the fact I am a California divorce lawyer, this isn’t legal advice. It’s not any kind of advice. It’s food for thought. It's the kind that I hope will help you think about options and look down and around before you take a second leap of faith.
Infidelity — once bitten, twice shy
Over one-third of the calls I receive seeking a divorce are based on infidelity. While California is a no-fault state and doesn’t take infidelity into consideration when deciding issues such as custody, support or property division, “cheating” can bring out a range of emotions from sorrow to rage that may have a very real and palpable impact on a divorce.
If you are looking to get married a second time and your prospective spouse’s first marriage ended in infidelity, do yourself a favor and consider what you’re getting yourself into. Does the fact your future husband or wife cheated on his or her spouse the first time guarantee it will happen again? Of course not. But have you really learned why it happened the first time? Are the same “triggers” that caused it to occur present in your relationship?
Have you heard separated or divorced couples say, “I should have paid attention to the warning signs”? Think of infidelity as a siren; one that you can ignore, at your own risk, or look into further to at least educate yourself on the cause so you don’t end up repeating the same mistake of a spouse that preceded you.
What if you were the one who was unfaithful?
It’s hard to self-reflect. You may have a million perfectly good reasons justifying what you did. Your spouse cheated first. The love had left the relationship. It was a onetime thing and not indicative of your character. Heck, you may even be right about many of them. But considering whether there are reasons for your decisions in the first marriage that may cross over into this one will at least help you and your future spouse communicate and build a consensus that will result in more constructive dialogue.
Consulting with a licensed therapist or psychologist who is experienced in helping each of you with such discussions is generally a great idea and investment of time.
Money — Digging gold vs. buying love
The quality of a hardworking and financial secure prospective spouse shouldn’t be seen as taboo or something that automatically makes the relationship ill-conceived.
For the higher earner in the relationship, the concern is often whether the prospective spouse is marrying for the “right” reasons (also known as “love”). If the higher earning spouse (let’s assume it’s the husband in our hypothetical) had to pay support resulting from his first divorce at a number that gave him heartburn, or he lost half of the wealth accumulated during the marriage to the other spouse because of community property laws, he may be gun shy about marrying again.
That, however, doesn’t always mean the end of the relationship or a stamp of disapproval for a subsequent marriage.
While laws vary from state to state, looking into the potential option of a prenuptial agreement may help alleviate the concerns and plan ahead. “Prenups” don’t necessarily equate a lack of trust or lack of love any more than wills or trusts mean a lack of faith in life. It's just good planning. Consulting with an experienced lawyer in your state about this potential option may lessen the anxiety that is born from feeling “burned” the first time around.
For the lesser earning spouse, sound legal advice is just as important. Make sure you know what you are signing before you sign it (and if you should sign it) and what consequences it may have for you. You may think your future spouse loves you and would never take advantage of you in a contract. You may even be right. But chances are pretty good his lawyer is the one who drafted that agreement. This lawyer may not share the same love for you and he or she may put his client’s interest way above any notions you share of fairness.
Baggage — Carry-on or Suitcase?
We all have pasts that have made our present. Our experiences are a big part of who and what we are, who we have loved, how we have loved, and our relationships have inevitably shaped our thinking and actions.
It’s time to talk. Consider the following:
Is the relationship between your future spouse and his or her former spouse a hostile one? If so, are you prepared to deal with the stress that may come with it?
Is the jealousy factor from the former spouse bound to creep in or blow up when you are married?
Are there children in the relationship that will be affected by your role as the “step” parent? Don't assume that just because the children are older means that transition will be easier.
Does your future spouse have ongoing financial obligations to his or her former spouse that are unresolved from their first marriage? A little planning goes a long way.
The help of a therapist, psychologist, lawyer and accountant may be a necessary part of the dialogue you have with your future husband or wife. I have seen and learned over the years that it all starts with open communication and constructive dialogue.
Love isn’t just for the better. It’s also planning for the alternative.