“I Now Pronounce You Financially Fit:
How to Protect Your Money in Marriage and Divorce”
by Pam Friedman
Review by Inna Loring, Esquire
As the old adage goes, it’s impossible to watch a hospital show with a doctor or a law show with a lawyer. Those who know the realities of the fictionalized practice will roll their eyes and complain about the implausible tracheotomy or the hourlong jury trial. By the same logic, a professional may have a hard time reading a book in his or her area of specialization, when that book is written for a layperson.
When I read the book, “I Now Pronounce You Financially Fit: How to Protect Your Money in Marriage and Divorce” by Pam Friedman, I expected at most a useful refresher, a go-to recommendation for clients seeking divorce. I did not expect that I would mark up many pages of excellent advice in a brief, well-structured, and easy-to-use format.
The tone of the book is one of a manual – it does not indulge in an analysis of marriage and divorce, nor does it attempt to shoehorn scholarship into a stilted personal story. Rather, the book treats divorce as a financial relationship and addresses the practical implications of entering into and dissolving this relationship. The bulk of the book consists of easy-to-follow chapters that teach the reader how to talk to his or her fiancé/spouse about money, and how to preserve assets entering into marriage and upon divorce.
A theme that runs throughout the book are the hazards of making financial decisions based on emotion. While feelings and emotions may lie at the heart of the marital relationship, the institution of marriage is one of inextricable financial ties. The clear-cut and candid tone of the book does not guilt the reader, but simply presents a sobering choice: bring emotion into a financial relationship at your own risk.
Not surprisingly, one of the first chapters discusses the merits of crafting a pre- or post-nuptial agreement. The chapter discussing 21 essential documents to exchange before marriage (or entering into a nuptial agreement) helps each party to come into a marital relationship armed with the knowledge necessary to safeguard the couple’s and each spouse’s financial wellbeing. Incidentally, this list of documents is also a handy tool for a family law practitioner crashing through an informal exchange of documents. The list spans paystubs, investment statements, tax returns, pension and retirement account statements, real estate appraisals, business valuations, documentation of loans against retirement and pension accounts, and credit reports, among other financial documents. Whether drafting a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, working on a marital budget, evaluating yours or your spouse’s professional choices, or contemplating the dissolution of a marriage, the list is a solid place to start amassing necessary information. Logically, the book then progresses to the creation of a marital budget, one that is informed by mutual knowledge and understanding of both spouses’ incomes, assets, liabilities, expectations, and prospects.
Some of the chapters are designed to provide general information about the process. For example, one chapter discusses the divorce process and another addresses spousal support (also known as alimony) as well as child support. These chapters give a helpful overview of the risks and uncertainties inherent in the court process and the lack of uniformity among jurisdictions. For those contemplating a nuptial agreement, these chapters confirm exactly what uncertainties an agreement avoids. For those at the cusp of the divorce process, these chapters give a head start before consulting a lawyer.
The second half of the book is especially useful for those going through a divorce. The chapter about the family home cautions against conflating objective and subjective value, and letting emotional baggage that fills a family residence to the rafters conceal its actual worth as an asset. Equally informative is a chapter on college savings and employment benefits such as health, life, and disability insurance.
It is not surprising that the author, Pam Friedman, is a Certified Financial Planner™ and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®. When considering how assets should be divided in divorce, one must take into account individual rules governing different assets, as well as the specific penalties, fees, and tax consequences attendant to the dissolution, division, or transfer of individual assets. Perhaps the most informative chapters to me as a lawyer were those that made it abundantly clear that extra attention is required – and sometimes, a financial professional should be consulted – when a case involves assets, the values of which fluctuate considerably over time, and which can be used to hide other assets (for example, by shifting marital funds into a college savings account) or liabilities (for example, by borrowing against a retirement account). The chapter on hiding assets within tax returns, including by carrying over losses, was especially informative. The primer on how to review a tax return, especially one filed by a self-employed individual, or a d/b/a, is a must-read for any lawyer.
“I Now Pronounce You Financially Fit: How to Protect Your Money in Marriage and Divorce” by Pam Friedman is by no means a legal treatise. Rather, it is an information tool about the troublesome “unknown unknowns” that plague divorces. Friedman teaches the reader where to look, what not to assume, and where to go for help. Coming in at under 200 pages, it is impressive how well Friedman’s book accomplishes what many thick volumes fail to do – and the author does it in an engaging, well-structured manner that makes this book a go-to for lawyers and clients alike.