Princewill recalled a client who tried to reconcile with a partner by sending flowers and jewelry. “For the other side, it was just annoying. Their biggest issue was how little time their partner was spending with them as a family. Being at work and sending gifts was insulting.” Their partner made assumptions about what they wanted without understanding the core issue. “Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall early on in a relationship,” Princewill said, “because maybe then we could avoid some of the conversations we have to have when it’s too late.”
Pay careful attention to how they speak about their previous partners, too. “I think some people came from a bad breakup with a need for an audience or an ally,” said Cary J. Mogerman, partner at Carmody MacDonald and president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, who has been practicing for 37 years. “What looks like an opportunity to be a partner could really just be the opportunity to be the cheering section for someone who is still not over what they got out of.” Mogerman said to trust your intuition and quoted Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
“I would be reluctant to disregard any behavior that you view as an anathema to your own philosophy of living, unless it’s truly superficial or innocent,” Mogerman said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why does this trouble me in the first place?’”
Don’t avoid financial discussions
Dating doesn’t always have to lead to a serious relationship — sometimes you want a one-night stand, or a summer fling, or an arrangement where you agree to sleep with each other once a year on the same date. In those cases, your conversations really only need to be as deep as deciding what to order for dinner. But if you are interested in settling down, moving in together, and getting married one day, then yes, you will need to prepare yourself for some heavy conversations, specifically about money. Studies have shown that financial conflict is a leading cause of divorce for all levels of earners. Discussing these issues now can save you a lot of conflict (and heartache) down the road.
“We know in the early stages it’s all about love, and everyone’s excited, but when all that settles, you get into the mundane day-to-day life,” Princewill said. What are your approaches toward money, and how do they align with each other? “If one person is an adventure seeker while the other just wants to save and be frugal, it could create conflict down the road when the excitement dies down, which it sure will.” Again, none of this needs to be a deal breaker, but you will need to communicate and create a set of ground rules. “It’s about trying to understand where the other is coming from, and setting parameters to get through things,” Princewill said. “The rule can be, ‘Let’s save x amount of dollars, but still have some money for adventure seeking.’”
“Nobody likes to be ripped off, and nobody likes to be dragged into a non-affordable situation,” said Harriet Newman Cohen, a founding partner at Cohen Stine Kapoor (past clients include Laurence Fishburne and Eve Chilton, Harvey Weinstein’s first wife). Cohen graduated from law school in 1974. When she was preparing to take her second-year exams, her husband of 21 years (and father of her four children) walked out on her; she represented herself in her own divorce when she was a brand-new lawyer. “In the old days, you had the wage earner, and you had the stay-at-home wife/mother, and the man could withhold all financial information. These days, most couples want to have transparency.”
How much does your partner earn? Does it make sense to split all household expenses 50/50, or does one of you earn significantly more? “At this point, the romantic relationship begins to turn into a business relationship,” Cohen said. “It’s a negotiation that can sometimes open eyes. The bloom is off the rose, and now you have to make a decision whether to go through with it.”