Relationships can be costly
In matters of love, listen to your heart and your legal advisor

There's and old saying that the only difference between sex for money and sex for free, is that sex for free costs more.

Although that attitude is a bit cynical, there are clearly financial consequences to getting involved in a relationship whether it be marriage, divorce or just a one-night stand. And those who correctly evaluate these costs stand a better chance of getting their money's worth.

The problem is that few people think about the potential costs of a relationship before they get involved. "Love is blind," said Andy Heft, a prominent Montreal divorce lawyer, who sees a lot of those costs on the back end of failed relationships. "Not many people that get involved think about the possibility the relationship might fail. Of those that do, not many act."

According to Heft, the expense of a failed relationship has gotten bigger in recent years. "Twenty years ago it used to be harder for couples to get divorced, but it did not cost as much," said Heft who has seen it all in his 25 years of practicing law. "Today, it's much easier to get a divorce. But your financial exposure could be higher."

Heft cites a combination of legal changes such as the evolution of child and spousal support laws and compensatory allowance legislation as reasons that the cost of failed marriages are going up. And while data on the subject are hard to find, anecdotal evidence indicates that a greater portion of those costs born by men.

Of the 120 to 130 matrimonial cases that Heft works on each year, and of the some 2,700 since he began his practice, in almost 95 per cent of the cases it's the men that pay women alimony, child support and so on.

And while the laws are theoretically unbiased in child custody and matrimonial cases, judicial discretion continues to favor women, especially when younger children are involved. Although according to Heft, the courts are willing to make more allowances as kids get older, especially if men pursue their rights aggressively.

The fact that women get awarded money more often than men, and get the benefit of the doubt in child custody battles should not come as a big surprise. Men earn more than women on average and women tend to make bigger sacrifices to their earning potential in order to play a bigger role in the family. The courts only seek to redress the balance.

There's also a logic to trends in custody decisions. It's hard for example, for a judge to refuse custody to a woman who claims to be breastfeeding her baby.
It's also hard for that judge to reverse his decision a year or two down the road, when the baby has an established home environment with his mother, even though the baby may no longer be breast-fed. It's also very hard for a judge not to be moved, and to be careful, when a woman alleges abuse, whether or not the charges are proven.

Which parent is awarded more "residential time with the children," (the politically correct word for custody) has big financial implications. The percentage of custody awarded has a big role in the ultimate determination of child support payments.

Beyond the considerable expense of on an unsuccessful relationship, another big reason that potential costs should be assessed before getting involved with a new partner is the high probability that the union will fail

There were 69,672 divorces in 1999, down considerably from the high levels of the mid-1980s, but up 2.3 per cent from the previous year. In fact about 45.4 per cent of marriages will end in failure. That's pretty close to one in two. When the chances are that high your marriage will tank, it is almost silly not to prepare for the possibility from the outset.

But divorce rates don't tell the whole story. The totals do not include the number of people have kids together without getting married. And those costs can be high.

"If you had a child with a women who earns less than you, you are going to pay child support," said Heft. "That applies whether or not you ever got married."

However evaluating the potential cost of a relationship is not easy. After all, people in singles clubs don't have price tags on their heads. Nor is the subject much discussed. In fact we could find no literature at all.

But according to Heft there are some pitfalls you can avoid. For one, traditional marriages, -- those in which the wife stays home to raise the children-- can be prohibitively expensive. That's because in the event of a breakup, the husband will not only have to pay child support and alimony, but also an allowance to compensate the spouse for her lost earning power due to the years she spent at home.

This cost can be even greater if for example a man marries an older woman --say mid-thirties --who sacrifices key earning years to raise a family, and then has little potential of getting back into the workforce. "He could be on the hook (for alimony payments) for life," said Heft.

One good tool to calculate potential child support payments is a software product called Aliform, that was developed using the Quebec government's child support determination guidelines. Just punch in key data such as yours and your ex's earnings, the number of children involved, and which parent has custody, and bang, out comes a number.

A good divorce lawyer will have access to the software, and Heft gave a brief demonstration. In our test case, a man earning $50,000 a year has a fling with a co-worker who earns $30,000 a year. She tells him that she is pregnant, and that she will let him know in a month or two about whether or not she will keep the baby.

According to Heft, our Romeo could be on the line for $4,787.74 a year in after-tax dollars. And that does not include ancillary expenses such as daycare, sporting activities and braces. (child support payments are no longer tax deductible since 1997).

The problem with evaluating the potential cost of a relationship, is that even if you know the potential damage, you can't do much about it. Premarital agreements aren't allowed under Quebec law.

According to Heft, the best thing you can do to protec tyourself is to not get married unless you absolutely must. Although you will still be liable for any children that arise from a union, key legal provisions such as the sharing of certain family assets do not apply to common law couples.

And if you do get married said Heft, it's probably better to try living together first for awhile so you know what you are getting into.


Photo caption: According to Andy Heft, a prominent Montreal attorney, although it's much easier to get divorced today than it was in the past, the settlement could cost you more.




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