The Investor

The Hidden Divorce Tax

Save your marriage, fix the economy, and teach those greedy lawyers a lesson.

By 4.24.03

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President Bush's economic stimulus package is in trouble, but he is actually in a no-lose situation. If Congress passes a compromise version and it stimulates growth, Bush gets to take credit. If they don't pass anything, or they pass something that doesn't work, Bush can blame his opponents for not adopting his original plan.

We may not even need a tax cut to stimulate economic growth. Oil prices are falling, and every dollar-per-barrel drop puts $7 billion in Americans' pockets. That got me thinking. Every year, we blow hundreds of billions of dollars on crap. If I could make one of those expenditures disappear, I could be a hero.

I didn't have to look far.

I knew, from all the nasty mail I get from Prowler readers complaining about lawyers, that I could make some friends if I could find a way to save money on legal fees. Understand the difference between my way of thinking and "legal reform" as proposed by George W. Bush, the American Medical Association, etc.: I don't think limiting access to the courts is a good idea. Some victims lose out, and whoever you're trying to bar from entry will figure out another way to get in. On the other hand, I have no problem with lawyers suffering because people don't need them anymore.

Did you know that Americans spend $150 billion on divorces per year? The Centers for Disease Control figured there were 1.1 million divorces in 1998. (The fact that the CDC even studies such things should be evidence enough that this is a big problem.) I've seen estimates of legal costs for divorces of $15,000 to $30,000 per divorce -- less if you were married for only a few months, more if you were married for a only a few months to Jennifer Lopez. Frankly, I won't vouch for these numbers, but I'm sure it's a lot.

Half of all marriages end in divorce. If we could cut the divorce rate by just a third -- merely keep another 300,000 couples married -- we would deprive lawyers of $50 billion in fees. Even a pro-lawyer type like me would have no reason to complain.

These ideas won't get us to our goal of 300,000, but it's a start. These suggestions are directed at men because, frankly, women are a mystery to me.

First, read women's magazines on the sly. Skip to the quizzes and memorize the answers. That way, when your wife asks you to take the quiz, you won't mess up so badly. (At least 10,000 divorces a year can be prevented just by learning the right answer to "Have you even fantasized about one of your wife's friends?")

Second, flowers always work. If you got into a fight with your wife and tried to make her forget it by slipping her fifty bucks, she'd probably slap you silly and keep the fifty on principle. In the same situation, if you send her flowers, you have an even-money chance of completely fixing the situation. Women think flowers are thoughtful, considerate, and romantic.

I'm going to let you in on a big secret: flowers don't represent any of those things. You call a local florist, or an (800) number, or access a website. Then you give them your credit card and your address and you're done. If all husbands used flowers to staunch wounds, then sent them two or three times a year "just because," we could probably cut divorces by 50,000 a year. That two-minute phone call will be a lot more rewarding to your marriage than spending an hour in Victoria's Secret looking for a gift. Do that on your own time.

Third, if your wife wants your opinion, the only acceptable answers are "yes" and "great." You don't have to agree with everything your wife says; you have to seem like you agree. Let's demonstrate with the killer of at least 100,000 marriages a year, the dreaded "interior decorator" issue.

Wife: "Can I work with an interior decorator to refurnish the house?"

Husband: "Yes, great." (Resume reading the quizzes in Cosmopolitan, hidden under the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Ironically, when you look at the swimsuit issue, you have to hide it under the cover of People or The American Spectator.)

None of this means you have to commit to using an interior decorator. That would be insane. You can win that battle, but you have to do it guerrilla style. It's always better to undermine than to disagree. Sometimes, the issue will just die on its own; your wife will forget about it, or decide it's not worth the trouble. You usually can't count on that, though, so you have to make her decide it's a bad idea.

Most women want the interior decorator their friend just used. (For reference, note the sullen, beaten look on the friend's husband's face the next time you see him, assuming he'll make eye contact.) Point out that her friend's house doesn't look quite right. Tell your wife that she did a better job with your house than her friend did with the designer. "I'm not against the idea, honey. But we need someone with our taste." (By the way, "our taste" is her taste, with a comfortable chair someplace unobtrusive.)

Whoever your wife wants to use, insist on interviewing the decorator. I know, you'd rather dig a shallow grave, but this is what they mean when they say that a successful marriage takes work. If the decorator is a woman, even if she looks like a dragon, make a pass at her. If you aren't low enough to do this, at least make several references to how attractive she is, and mention it about ninety times to your wife in bed that night. (If the decorator is male, you're on your own.)

I think these suggestions are a good start toward getting us to 300,000. If you have any additional ideas, the folks at the Prowler, and the nation as a whole, would be happy to hear them. Just forgive me if I'm not able to respond. I've had a little dust-up with the missus and my computer access has been severely limited.

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About the Author

Michael Craig is a writer in Scottsdale, Arizona.