Al and Tipper Gore Are Separating: Could It Happen to You?

Last Updated Jun 2, 2010 11:55 AM EDT

If Al and Tipper Gore can announce they're separating after 40 years of marriage, it can happen to any of us -- that's probably why yesterday's separation announcement was such a shocker. Of course, nobody ever really knows what's going on in another relationship, and it's possible there are other shoes (hopefully no sexy pumps or baby booties) to drop. But to us outsiders, it seems like they were a loving and close couple, and it makes their impending divorce a big mystery. What causes that?

The public spotlight, differing goals, and health problems can all contribute; according to a new post by The Daily Beast, there are 15 ways to predict that a couple will split,. But one of the biggest is money -- not having enough of it, or disagreeing about how to spend it. (Of course, that probably wasn't the Gores' problem. They were able to buy an $8.875 million manse for him in Silicon Valley without having to sell their 10,000 square foot Nashville manor. You'd think, with his and hers mansions, they'd be able to stay married, right?)

But for the less well off, financial troubles are a big predictor of divorce. Couples that have no assets are 70 percent more likely to split than couples that are at least $10,000 in the black. And couples arguing about money once a week or more are 30 percent more likely to split. Today, with unemployment pushing 10 percent and one in four mortgages underwater, those financial pressures are high, and so are the relationship risks. (For tips on how to stop the screaming, read the excellent advice offered by my CBS MoneyWatch colleague, Katy McColl, on 10 Ways To Stop Arguing About Money.)

So, could the big D happen to you? Maybe. (You can check your chances with the divorce calculator at Divorce360.com.) Here's what to do if it does:
  • Get financial advice. There's a science to splitting up property, and specialists who know all about it. Your settlement can be structured in ways that let you save on taxes, keep low-rate mortgages and the like. Add a divorce financial analyst to your roster of attorneys and other professionals.
  • Try not to fight. If you can sort out your finances with a divorce mediator and then turn that package over to your attorney, you'll save buckets. If you're really good at this, you can negotiate your whole settlement, file your own forms, and skip the lawyers altogether.
  • Protect yourself. If that trusting, mutual divorce agreement isn't in the cards, take care of your own finances. Stop putting money into joint accounts. Don't sign a joint tax return unless you're certain your spouse is being honest on the form. And apply for credit in your own name.
  • Take care of college. Got kids? Don't allow your settlement to end when they turn 18. While you are negotiating, settle on a fair college deal (how much each spouse pays, what kind of school is acceptable, etc.) and make sure to have that be a part of the official divorce agreement.
  • Don't kill yourself trying to keep the house. This the most common mistake women make in divorce. They give up the retirement assets and more so they can stay in the family home, and then they often can't afford the monthly payments and taxes. Downsizing during divorce could ultimately lead to a more peaceful and financially secure life after marriage. Unless, that is, you've got a $9 million mansion waiting for you.
Photo courtesy of Kango.com.
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