Plan for a life together as well as ‘just in case’

Plan for a life together as well as ‘just in case’
04 June 2013

Most people don’t get married with divorce in mind. But the sad fact is that marriages are increasingly ending in permanent splits. And so, how can we walk that ever so delicate line between believing in and living the “happy ever after”, thinking of it as “our money” and planning for a future of total togetherness, while being aware of the probability, however low, of divorce.

And that probability is getting higher. The UAE, which has one of the highest divorce rates in the Muslim world, is seeing more and more expatriates deciding to end their marriages. Between 2009 and 2011, divorce between Emiratis increased by seven per cent, but there was a whopping 30 per cent rise for other nationalities.

You can understand how this came to be: there are many stresses that go with expatriate life, including relocating to a country you’re not familiar with, leaving behind support systems, friends and family. Add to this the often long hours put in at the office, lines blurred between work time and family time, as well as frequent business-related travel, and perhaps one partner – usually the wife – having to go back home, sometimes for months, to deal with schooling issues, to escape the summer heat with little ones or to look after elderly parents as well as a myriad of other reasons.

Out of the blue

And even when the going is good, the best intentions and plans can go askew, with one partner declaring, out of the blue in some cases, that he or she wants a divorce.

And so, how can we plan for a life of togetherness, while planning for “just in case”? I’m by no means an expert, nor do I believe that anyone is in fact, but every time a long-term married female friend asks me about investment opportunities or wants to talk about money, it’s usually the precursor to, or in anticipation of, a split on the horizon. Most women in this category have let their careers take a back seat and were dedicated to raising children and being homemakers.

Financially vulnerable

This is not to say that women don’t also walk out on their menfolk, but the women, in this typical social expatriate structure of life, are the ones who invariably suffer greater economic consequences and are least prepared to fend for themselves financially – especially if this happens later in life.

 The thing is that thinking these issues through, and making provisions, doesn’t only apply to divorce. It also means that, should your partner die, or become incapacitated in any way, you would be on top of your finances, and able to survive while any legal, or other, wranglings ensue. And by the way, when a person dies in this country, his or her bank account is frozen until inheritance rights are sorted, so you would need to ensure that you have access to living expenses at the very minimum. 

Food for thought

Even if you have the happiest marriage ever, no-one can predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone in 10 years time.  Make sure you are aware of the elements that will give you financial independence should the worst happen.

Have separate accounts I’m not saying you shouldn’t combine your money in marriage, rather I’m saying that you would do well to have a separate account too – perhaps a current and a savings account – in your sole name. This way, if you need to access cash in a hurry, you’re able to.

Have a pension fund in your name only This will have the added benefit of focusing your mind on what you need to make provisions for to lead a comfortable life later on.

Be employed Now, the women who come asking about investments, and how much they should have in savings, also invariably mention that they don’t know if they can support themselves financially. I would suggest that you work part time or even volunteer in your field. Paid or not paid, work is work. Not only will this stand you in good stead should you need to apply for a job at relatively short notice, but I’m sure it’ll give you a great sense of self-worth and purpose. And periodically (this could mean once every six months, or once a year), update your CV.

Know what happens with the family money

I’d put this into four simple pots:

• Life expenses: what does it cost you to live the way you do? You should know this even if you don’t pay the bills.

• Investments, including savings accounts and pension funds: know the details, and where the up-to-date paperwork is kept.

• Liabilities: what do you owe and to whom. And again, know where all the paperwork is.

• Insurance policies: who are you insured by, and who and what exactly is insured? Remember all your policies, including life, car, contents, and health policies. Find out if you are covered should you divorce, or your partner dies or leaves his place of work.

We’re talking basics too, like: what are account numbers, login details, and any other information that would make the difference between you accessing current data or being locked out. Again, this is a must, not only should/in the event that you go through a divorce, but also to enable you to be on top of your finances, and therefore life, should your partner die, become ill, have an accident or even be kidnapped – these things do happen.

Liabilities: don’t put them all in your name  I know of far too many people, women especially, who have taken loans out in their sole names to help their spouse perhaps continue their studies, start a business, or simply help with a family situation, only to be left high and dry, and having to pay back the loan in full.

Now, every woman who has shared her money concerns has one common regret: not having saved money for herself. Remember the adage: save for a rainy day. Do it. Save for a just-in-case situation.

I realise that this is a tad depressing. I hope that most of you are reading this thinking “this will never happen to me”. And I truly hope you have a lifetime of wonderful memories and marital bliss together. But, planning for the unexpected, whatever it may be, will mean that you will be spared a lot of heartache later, and truly live happily ever after.

This article by Nima Abu-Wardeh first appeared in The National.

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  • Colin

    Women are twice as likely as men to be in debt due to divorce or separation according to StepChange, the UK debt counsellor, who have found the proportion of women who encounter financial difficulty due to separation or divorce is almost double that of men (12.5% compared to 6.8%).

    And as the woman is more likely to be the one “left holding the baby” the stress of the debt can be immense.

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