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Secret wealth vs. ‘for richer, for poorer’
By Sharon Reicr
When Linda, a social worker in the New York area, received a significant chunk of money after her mother died, she did not divulge the amount to her husband of 15 years. Instead, she set up separate accounts earmarked for the education of their son and daughter.
Worried that her marriage would founder once her children left home, Madame M., the wife of an Asian industrialist, bought an expensive apartment in central Paris to prepare as a possible escape hatch. The money she used had been inherited from her father. The marriage survived. But a decade later, her husband and children still don't know about the Paris property.
Such behavior is perfectly legal. But the people who engage in it are reluctant to use their full names for fear of destabilizing their families.
The classic marriage vows may urge "for richer, for poorer," but concealing financial activities from a spouse is hardly a new strategy. Over a century ago in his play "A Doll's House," Henrik Ibsen used the device of a wife's secret loan to unveil the dynamics of an unhealthy marriage.
But in an age when divorce and serial marriage have become commonplace, when many women are entering marriages earning large sums and such assets are an increasing component of family wealth, it is not just billionaires like Ronald Perelman, president of Revlon, and Donald Trump who are concerned about protecting what is his, what is hers and what is theirs.
While prenuptial agreements and even postnuptial agreements are increasingly being used to set boundaries, in the end, who gets what depends on legal jurisdiction, sound financial planning, national traditions and the psychological state of the marriage.
Common sense may dictate that since most countries require income tax returns signed by both spouses, husbands and wives should at least know what the other is earning. But this is not necessarily so, experts in marriage counseling and family law say.
At Relate, the largest couples counseling charity in Britain, each couple is given an exit evaluation after a course of therapy. One question they are asked is, "Do you know how much your partner earns?" Many people say no, said Denise Knowles, a counselor at Relate, whose clients come from all levels of society.
In England and Wales, prenuptial agreements often are not recognized in court. Moreover, in contrast to most U.S. states or France, where the Napoleonic Code governs mar
ital property. England and Wales stipulate that all assets that are brought into the marriage or inherited can be com sidered part of the marital estateand can be claimed by an
unhappypartner, or even spouses and childrenfrom previ ous unions.
"Many people do not understand this and have a very expensive prenuptial agreement drawn up in the United States," Mainls said. "They move to England. and later the Eiglish court will not recognize it."
Napoleonic law provides for a legal form of marriage calleda séparatian dc biens.which stipulates no community property and therefore releaseseach spouse from responsi bility for his partners debts. "Usually it is advisable to choose this regime if the husband has risky businessactivi ties",Lapeyre said. In the United States,a prenuptial agreement would be necessary to guard one spouse from the others debts.
increasingly concerned about the assets they brought into the marriage. Women with high earnings capacity, she said, are "often influenced by their mother's situation."
"Either she never had her own money and she couldn't do things, "Maizels said",or shehad wealth, but lostit supporting a previous partner, or worse, a partners previous relationship."
To sum up, while a financial crisis may force a couple to pull together, realizing a fortune may causea couple to squabble about things that were not debatable before.The differences can lead to separate lives, and sometimes to divorce.