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A Post-Valentine's Post: Smart Girls Get Prenups

So you got the tiny blue box tied in white ribbon for Valentine's Day, huh? After you've contacted your insurance agent, there's one more call you need to make -- your family law expert.
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So you got the tiny blue box tied in white ribbon for Valentine's Day, huh? That little box containing a carat of sparkle mounted on some precious metal meant to last a lifetime? How nice. After you've contacted your insurance agent, there's one more call you need to make -- your family law expert. Because whether you know it or not, you're in need of another piece of paper that could protect you from financial ruin just in case things don't end happily ever after.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day: Statistics have them as the busiest times of the year to pop the question. As much as I detest bursting Cupid's candy-filled heart, the obvious statistic that goes hand-in-glove with marriage is, sadly, divorce. And while giving consideration to whether or not your marriage might end before it even begins is not very romantic, I assure you that attorneys don't sign a "Love and Kisses" to a Complaint for Divorce.

The CDC has marriages at 6.8 per 1,000 and divorces at 3.6 per 1,000; this means that more than 50 percent of marriages end catastrophically. We usually associate the CDC -- the acronym for the Centers for Disease Control -- with disease. Odd, then, that the CDC does a statistical calculation for something that's not a disease. Were divorce a disease, then at least it could be covered by your health insurance. Absent a Blue Cross-Blue Shield umbrella policy to cover your heartbreak, a prenuptial agreement is the next best remedy available for what has statistically become a chronic ailment of modern society.

And as a modern girl -- a business owner, writer, teacher, property owner -- I can tell you from experience that today's female professionals would be well-advised to seek legal counsel prior to marriage. Because the average age of women marrying in the U.S. is now 27-years-old, with many opting to marry in their early to mid-30s, we have had plenty of time to establish ourselves in successful careers. Those jobs carry substantial assets that we bring to the partnership, potentially more than our partner.

To be sure, there still exists an economic gender gap, but over the last three decades, women have begun to close that gap. Women are now major stakeholders in the household balance sheet. Therefore, when it comes to divorce, a successful woman's unprotected assets -- assets she acquired before the start of the marriage -- can be eroded, even divided up by law, in community property states. That is, a woman's separate property brought to the marriage can become so mixed with community property that it can't be identified and can end up split in the spousal wars. Add to that the hard economics of legal fees and the cost of splitting up becomes exponentially higher than the average engagement ring. And wedding. And honeymoon. Combined.

When I tried to get a fix on the legal fees associated with divorce, I reached out to family law expert James Quigley of the highly regarded Beermann Mirabelli Pritikin & Swerdlove firm in Chicago. His answer:

There is no such thing as an average cost of divorce because it is mostly dependent upon how much litigation is involved and how long the case takes. Even when a client comes in and says that he or she believes their case can be uncontested, I advise them that all cases could be uncontested but seldom are because of one party or the other Not to mention, if you get certain lawyers or certain law firms that are less interested in getting the case finalized, that can also add to costs.

So when pressed to give some type of range, I typically say that divorces, on average, last between six months to 18 months and would cost somewhere between $10,000 and $75,000. But in the end, every divorce is unique because there are very intimate and personal facts in every relationship that affects how the process is going to go.

In the end, State governments are reluctant to get involved in our romantic lives until it's too late. Illinois law, for example, dictates that both parties fill out separate disclosure statements as part of the divorce process (a formal listing of all assets each party believes to be either marital or nonmarital). Unfortunately, that same exercise is not a predicate to obtaining a marriage license. This situation has the potential to leave one party unfairly exposed if they begin to uncover undisclosed premarital debt, only serving to compound the cost of divorce. Since government is unwilling to get involved in our relationships, but for a marriage license, in the end, smart girls would be well-advised to take some preventative medicine and obtain a prenuptial agreement from a family law expert before saying, "I do."

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