Better or Worse?

Better or Worse?

Fifty percent of marriages now end in divorce. There are lots of reasons. Longer life is one, easier separation, another. Decline in the religious belief of a lifetime partnership is high on the list. Adultery still accounts for the breakdown of trust; boredom must figure there, too. People grow and change. There is often less fault in a broken marriage than hope for something better. Whatever the cause, an ended partnership is painful and sad.

It can be somewhat more comfortable if the parties remain friends but even then a feeling of guilt will haunt them and tears of failure will flow from time to time. When the parting is vicious it can cause years of bitterness, obsession over property and money, jealousy over children’s affections and remorse for failure that weighs heavily on a personality. 

Broken vows, however justified, are a rotten legacy for anyone, especially oneself. 

To propose a prenuptial agreement while the romance of a sensational love is still in full swing is not guaranteed either to enhance the emotional feelings or to impress the everlasting nature of the commitments. “Don’t you trust me?” is a poor way to leave the registry office in search of a blissful honeymoon. But there is a fifty percent chance that you will split and if you must a prearranged division of who gets what helps soothe the scratches of disaster. 

In a world where mortgages can last a lifetime, when education debt may burden the balance sheet for years, and where pensions are expected to protect the vulnerable for a period as long as that covering the work years, who is entitled to what is a pretty important question. After all, the vow, however non-religious, did say something like “better or worse”. A well prepared prenup may be better than worse.

Even with a prenup there will be much room for speculation, at the time of a split, about who contributed what to the marriage. One parent, not necessarily the woman, may spend more time keeping house and bringing up the children. The partner earning most of the joint income may not make the bigger contribution to the home. Who spent what on themselves and their families will have distorted the bank balance. A certain generosity is essential for any bearable divorce. How much will always depend on the size of the cake at cutting time.

Prescriptions for a happy divorce do not exist. Common sense targets of minimum lawyers fees, maximum amount for each participant and a feeling of fairness on both sides is as good as you can get. Where there are enough assets for one side to be generous, an attempt to be so by both parties will ease the misery. Where both end up satisfied, there is probably a lot of luck. As with most things in life, good fortune plays a big part in contentment.

Preparing a prenup is a job for the professionals. It has to envisage a situation very different from the one at the time of writing. ‘All my worldly goods’ is a number expected to grow, not just up to the time of separation but way beyond that too. Unpredictable inflation will have to be acknowledged somehow. Increasing independence of women will be reflected in their security –  or lack of it –  embraced by the agreement.

Divorce, and often a long period afterwards, is a testing time for people. It requires a strong but kind character to do it as well as it can be done. Establishing the basic rights of both parties while they are still convinced it will never happen may seem garish.

But it can make the trauma of a very tough time just slightly less fraught.

Better, perhaps, than worse.

Good morning

John Bittleston

Any contribution to making this difficult chapter of life less awful will be welcomed by us at  

07February 2023