EP 199: Why You Should Create a Marital History – Part 1

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Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.

I’m going to discuss a topic that I haven’t brought up on the podcast before. And that is creating a marital history. Now, this is something that I’ve talked about on one-on-one coaching calls, but not something that I’ve brought up on the podcast and I think it’s a really important subject that everyone should listen to. And perhaps, everyone should create. One of the challenges when you are getting divorced and you hire someone like me or you go to your attorney, is trying to catch up on everything that has happened. And of course, a lot has happened, particularly, if you are contemplating separation or divorce and are going through that process. And so, one of the things that can help us and help you and help everyone, is what I’m going to call a marital history. Some people might call it a marital history questionnaire, a lot of attorneys I know don’t do this at all and they might just ask you questions.

But, this is one of the most powerful tools that I’m now a big fan of. That I think that everyone should do and should create and should work with. And do on their own. It’s something that you can do individually. It’s not necessarily going to be a fun subject, but it can be very important when it comes to settlement negotiations, if you have to go to trial, and just helping us understand the context of what’s going on. One of the things that I ask, if you book a coaching call with me, there’s always a questionnaire that covers some basic information on a marital history. But, for the sake of this episode, I’m gonna get into some really in depth issues that you might wanna create, or thinking about, or think about creating that will help everyone get on board. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to your attorney or comes to me or comes to an accountant or something like that, is that we don’t know you.

And we don’t know everything that has been going on. And even if we do know you for a while or work together for a while, there’s stuff that we might forget or we might miss or we might not have it all in order. And so, one easy way to provide clarification in terms of your history and things have gone on, is to document it. Write it all down and create a marital history document. And I’m going to get into what goes into a marital history. And there’s different ways that you can do it. But, what it does is in the span of 10 minutes for us, is we can read a few pages of information that you prepared and say, “Okay, I’m starting to get a feel for what’s been going on over the last five or 10 or 15 or 20 or 30 years.” And now, I can start formulating a strategy in terms of “Oh, your spouse is a narcissist” or “Oh, I understand that you’ve been a stay at home parent all of this time” or “Oh, you’re the primary bread earner and this is what’s happening” or “Oh, this spouse has money issues” they can’t save.

Or “Oh, you’ve been or the spouse has been great, just things aren’t working out and we need to get a divorce and this is what’s gonna happen” or “There’s been abuse and here’s some examples of instances that this has taken place”. Whatever the case may be, it’s easy for us to come up to speed with what those things are. And it’s in a marital history document. And so, what I’m gonna do over this episode and perhaps a couple of episodes is go through some of the things that should be on your marital history and some different ways to prepare it and some different considerations to do. Now, there is a … There’s sort of two methods to creating a marital history, and they’re not exclusive, meaning you can do both of them. And the one that I normally go with, not because it’s right or wrong, it’s just the way that I think. Very analytical and I deal with of numbers.

And I like creating what I call a timeline. Or what many people call a timeline, in which I say, “Hey, if you wanna do a very simple version of this document that’s only a page long”, which might be all that you need for some people is, look, just create a page, or two pages at the most. Create a timeline for me. Tell me what day you got married. Tell me the big events that occurred in your marriage.” So, if you bought a house on a particular date. Tell me that on May 1, 2002, you bought a house. And just give me like … You can keep it that simple. You could say, “Hey, we bought a house. We both contributed $50 thousand each for the down payment. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Or, if it’s something more complex than that, maybe you could say, “Oh, well I contributed the down payment, spouse did not contribute, house is in my name only. And I pay for the mortgage. And have for the last 20-some years.”

Whatever the case may be. I said, “2002”, so I guess less than 20 years, last 15, 16 years. And so, you can do that or you could say, “In 2017, in June we had our first big argument and I left the house for a month” or “There was an abuse situation that occurred and police were called” or “Went to marriage therapy for the first time”. But, what you do is you just take all the events in order, put them with dates and you list them on a page. And that’s the simple method that can say, “Okay, I can see the big events. Here’s some quick explanation in terms of what’s been going one”. I’ve had people who do it by hand. You can type it up. You can do it in excel document. Whatever is easiest for you. And just quickly layout the history and timeline for things that have happened.

Now, I’m going to go through a little bit more of a comprehensive method that can be paired with a timeline, but I’m gonna go through a lot of different questions and a lot of ways to jog your memory in terms of things that you should include on this marital history. Now, if you walk into almost any attorneys office they’ll have a intake form for you to complete. Some of the questions on that intake form are helpful and will relate to a marital history. But, some of the stuff I don’t really see on many lawyers intake forms, even at the best law firms in the country. But, this is the kind of information that can save everyone a lot of time and energy and questions. And provide a lot of clues in terms of how the divorce should proceed. And so, what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna go through a bunch of questions, a bunch of prompts for you to think about. You can … I don’t have them … You can kinda just think through these.

You might wanna pause for certain ones. I’m going to just kinda read through them, some of the important ones. And start making some notes for yourself. And also just FYI, is I keep a transcript of all of the episodes on the podcast at DivorceInYourMoney.com. If you click on “Podcast” you’ll see a transcript of all of the episodes, so if you miss a question or you can always rewind, but also, I keep a list of these questions for you. And I’ll try and keep them separated pretty easily, so you can kinda copy and paste if you wanna look at some of these down the line. I know some of you listen to this while working out, some in the car, some at work, and sometimes you’re not in a position to write these down at the moment. So, I’m gonna try and make these as easy for you as possible at DivorceInYourMoney.com. And if you click on the “Podcast” button, you’ll see the transcript for this episode, in terms of the questions. And I’m gonna do this, probably over two episodes. So, if you don’t get all of them now, the other episode will be up shortly.

Now, questions to consider. And let’s go through these. These aren’t gonna be fun, but you should write these down, type them out, whatever’s best, so long as the information is in a position that you can communicate it and share with the people who want to help you. Me, your attorney, et cetera, ’cause this stuff is useful. So, first section is on marriage. There’s lots of things to consider in the marriage category. Things to consider such as: Is this your first marriage? Why don’t you tell … You should write down when you got married. Where you got married. And if you had any previous marriages, make sure you write those down and document them as well. Was there a clear time that you separated? You should include that. Why did that separation happen? And if you think there’s a clear time you separated, sometimes it’s as simple as, “Well, my spouse moved out of the house on August 4th.” That’s a clear separation date.

But I know many of you are still living together or maybe you’re still contemplating divorce. So, a formal separation hasn’t happened yet, but you might want to say, “Hey, I think we kinda of … I think the breaking point was this day.” And, there always is a breaking point. You can say who left, what the circumstances were. Those types of things. The next section I would consider is kind of a loaded one, but we’ll call it the Fault Section. And trying not to over communicate emotions into some this process. Just try and state the facts to the best of your ability. I’ve worked with clients on creating these before and sometime you’ll say “Well …” you might have a paragraph as to what you’re explanation is, but really … and what you’re thinking, but really, only one thing happened. You moved out of the house and you moved out because there was a threat of something or it was just time or you finally found a new place to move.

Just write “Moved out of the house. Found a new place.” Not, “Well, I’ve been thinking about moving out of the house for eight months and I was walking around the neighborhood and I took a walk and on that walk I was contemplating it and I saw my neighbor and the dog and we had a nice chat. Then I went and had a drink and then the wal … and then …” You don’t need to do all that. When it comes to this next section, in particular, just try and state the facts to the best of your ability. Remember, everything I say in this process, to get the best outcome possible is to really look at the facts. So, here’s some questions: Why do you think the marriage is ending? What did you do that may have contributed to the marriage ending? Sometimes that’s an easy question like, “Well, I had three affairs, but those affairs might be because my spouse did not fill my needs in another way” or “We haven’t talked” or whatever the case may be.

Now, what things did your spouse do that contributed to the marriage? If you’re getting divorced, I know that list could fill a book. But focus on the big items, the breaking points. Are there any third parties that are involved. So, is there another boyfriend, girlfriend that’s been involved in this process or that’s the cause of this? Is there something, someone outside of just the two of you that is leading to the breakdown of the marriage? As I said, try and document the big things, not everything is of relevance, but to the extent you’re willing to share it with your attorney or with me, write it down. Write down the facts and kinda keep it clean. Next area is on children. Make sure you have the ages of the children, where they were born, where they go to school. Do they have any medical issues?

I deal with a lot of people who have children who have special needs. And that provides or adds a layer of complication in the divorce. Is there anything unusual about the child’s lives? It could be in relation to, well I have some kids who go to boarding school or who are exceptional musicians. When I say, “I”, I mean I have clients who have kids who are like that. You should make those things known. Is your spouse a … Could they still be a good parent? Is there a reason that custody should be … And I hate to use the word “Custody”, but is there a reason that one child should spend a lot more time with a parent than another? In some cases that’s clear, in some cases that’s less clear. But, if there are some things that need to be brought up, then by all means, start writing those down. And also, from the kids perspective, if you could guess, sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not. But if you could guess, do you think the kids would pick a particular parent to live with?

And if so, why? I know some people who have kids, they’re in theory living in the same house, but one parent has almost no relationship with a child in the house for any number of reasons. And so, if that’s important, then write that down. Has one parent been the primary parent in the relationship? That is very relevant. It’s not a negative thing, if one parent has, usually in most relationships, or in many relationships, one person worked and the other person takes care of the household including the kids. So, it’s not unusual if one person is, but it’s good to be honest and as truthful as you can with your advisors. At the end of the day, even if something might look back for you, it is not something that we’re making a judgment on. Our goal is to help get the information in the context, so that we can help you and help make the right decisions for you. And help you make the right decisions that you want.

And so, those are the first areas to start with. Is the marriage, why is it breaking down? Just some basic information about the marriage. Why it’s breaking down. And tell us about the kids. In the next episode I’m gonna go through some other questions to think about, like health, education, employment, income questions that will help us get a better picture of your marital history and your marital status. And, just a reminder, you can write these down, you can type them out, whatever format is easiest for you to do. But, be as truthful, as honest, and as much detail as you can so long as it’s relevant detail. Stay tuned for the next episode. A lot of good stuff coming in and a lot more questions I wanna make sure that you have answered, which will, I won’t say make your divorce smoother, but will certainly help us and help your attorney, help anyone who helps … help your mediator, whoever it is, in the divorce process present the best case for you.

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