As divorced parents, my former spouse and I worked hard to set aside our differences to celebrate our children’s milestones. We made it through numerous birthdays, graduations, and athletic tournaments with courtesy, kindness, and warmth. This next milestone, however, is an especially big one for my family, and somehow it just feels more significant than anything we’ve experienced in the past. My daughter is getting married.
As a divorced mom who provides financial advice to other divorced women, this development has caused deep reflection on my part. In full disclosure, I love my future son-in-law and think of him as my third son. He is smart, caring, and treats my daughter with respect and admiration. He supported her throughout her challenging years in medical school while she studied for delayed national board exams during the pandemic. He is truly “her person” and she is his. I couldn’t have arranged a better match. So why the apprehension?
As a financial advisor, my clientele includes numerous divorced women. Based on their experiences and my own, divorce can be messy, traumatic, and downright ugly, and those are the thoughts that are bleeding into my daughter’s upcoming nuptials. Logically, I know that just because my marriage failed, that doesn’t mean my daughter’s is doomed, but the scars of divorce are powerful. I’m hopeful, but also apprehensive for my children. After all, what decision could be more important than committing to one person for the rest of your life?
Here are my thoughts and advice as my daughter prepares to get married.
As a 23-year-old, why was I so eager to move to a strange city, start a new job, and financially support my husband throughout four years of his medical school and six years of residency? Because I was young, unafraid, naïve and, of course, in love. What’s funny is, my daughter just moved to a new city to start her residency and her supportive fiancé moved right along with her. Is that eerie or what?
What about prenuptial agreements? We all know they can reduce the uncertainty associated with divorce, but when people ask if I had a prenuptial agreement, I have to laugh. At the time of my marriage, our “assets and liabilities” consisted of a frying pan, some lumpy pillows, student loans, and our primary means of transportation – my grandmother’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Let’s just say, in the event of divorce, there wasn’t much to protect.
As a financial planner, I now think of a prenuptial agreement not as a negative, but rather as a “marriage succession plan.” Every good succession plan defines triggering events which offer partners the ability to part ways, value and divide assets, and continue or dissolve the operation. Among other aspects, the plan could also address the future value of unpaid labor as a caregiver – that is, their lost retirement savings and lost Social Security benefits. Even if there aren’t significant assets to protect, a prenuptial agreement may be a good idea.
For example, a prenup can address particular financial decisions, protect one spouse from another’s significant debt, and address the complexities of a second marriage.
Getting married is exciting, and it can – and should – be a rich long-term commitment, and I am absolutely excited that my daughter is getting married. On a related note, my dear parents just celebrated their 67th anniversary, and here is one of their (and my) favorite exchanges: My father thanks my mother for not giving up on him. She replies that she can’t give up on him because he’s “almost” perfect now. They are 88 and 89 years old.
As a financial advisor, I’ve worked with enough people to know that every marriage is unique. My favorite couples are relaxed in each other’s company, laugh a lot, and demonstrate respect for the other’s viewpoints. I want this kind of relationship for my daughter and son-in-law, and so far, all signs are positive. They have known each other for five years. They’ve built a foundation of love and support for each other. Their happiness is contagious, and I admire their willingness to take the next step in committing to each other.
Here is my advice to other divorced parents who have a son or daughter getting married:
1. Acknowledge your feelings.
2. Explore the root causes of why you’re feeling the way you are.
3. Assess the likelihood of a poor outcome for your son or daughter.
4. Journal your thoughts. Write down your mixed emotions and why you are having them. Write a list of what you want to tell your son or daughter about marriage and commitment: what you did wrong, what you did right, what you would change, what you wouldn’t.
5. Relax and embrace their choices as adults.
It was helpful to work through my unexpectedly mixed emotions, and I plan to thoroughly embrace and enjoy my daughter’s upcoming wedding. I want to relish it for the beautiful milestone it is. Because after all, my divorce is long gone, and my daughter’s future – although it will come with challenges – looks bright and beautiful. That, to a mother, is what matters the most.
Allison A. Alexander, CFA, CPA, CDFP is a Financial Advisor, and Owner Member for Savant Wealth Management. Allison specializes in working with people undergoing significant transitions, e.g., retiring, losing a spouse, experiencing divorce, or selling a business. She helps each client create their “new normal” and become comfortable with a new comprehensive financial plan.
Allison is knowledgeable in all areas of financial planning, including wealth transfer and philanthropy, proactive income and estate tax planning, retirement cash flow projections, retirement income optimization, insurance needs analyses, debt management, and education funding.
Allison has been involved in the financial services industry since 1985. She is a founding member of Cents of Self, an initiative that inspires, informs, and empowers women to pursue their best financial futures. Prior to joining Savant, Allison gained financial reporting experience in public accounting and private industry. After her tenure at a “Big Eight” firm, she managed the financial reporting team for an insurance company in Chicago.
Allison graduated with high distinction (top 10%) from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®). Allison is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Illinois Certified Public Accountant Society, and the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts. Learn more on the firm’s website.