I have never been married, but I think 50-50 is the only way to do it. I don’t mean 50-50 in financial terms, I mean a synergy that results in a 50-50 share of value. Whether my spouse earns money or not, I have to assume that she deserves half of what we have.
In legal and financial terms, a marriage operates like a partnership. The law presumes that partners are equally liable for whatever the partnership does. The law also presumes that each partner can make decisions on behalf of the partnership. The only way I can prevent my partner from embarrassing me in public is by creating rules (prenup). While these rules can protect me, it is very difficult to draft them for all circumstances. If I can’t trust my partner, the agreement won’t be worth the paper it is printed on.
When I create a partnership, I never do it with someone just like me. Why would I want someone with strengths I already have, and who will double my weaknesses? I therefore never want someone who earns what I earn. I would rather have someone who earns much less, but has something else to offer which I don’t have.
Let’s say I am a really good writer, and want to advance my career. I then hire Justin Cascio to be my editor. Every article I write is the product of both our efforts. Sometimes I write, and he changes the title to something that better represents my thesis. Other times we email back and forth and he guides me towards topics that will be more interesting for the audience. Every once in a while he compliments me and motivates me to keep up my busy writing schedule. We make a killer team, but alas—he does not have a CPA license or a Masters Degree in Accounting. Although I know he cannot write what I write, I have to humbly accept that my work is useless without his finishing touches.
We can go a step further and say that I am so good at writing that I can make it without Justin. But without him I will likely make less money over time. The work will be more difficult and I will be more prone to failure every step of the way. I do not choose to work with Justin because he is a good writer (that’s my job). I choose him because he is a good editor. His role in my writing career will facilitate the appropriate expression of my talent. Whatever he gets financially from the deal, I have to believe he is worth it from the beginning. When we get paid, I have to have zero doubt that he is worth the money.
Many people want to marry their equals. Women want to prove that they can be independent and don’t need a man to support them. Men don’t want to be stuck in the role of a provider all their lives because it’s a lot of pressure. But still, someone has to do it. Someone will likely earn more than the other and determine the family’s standard of living. Someone will likely spend more time taking care of children. At any given time, only one person can be the quarterback and there’s nothing wrong with letting them play that position if they are the best at it. If everybody wants to play offense, we lose the benefits of specialization and lose more games.
I have never been married, but I don’t want an equal—financially or otherwise. I want someone who will help me become even more of what I already am. I earn a decent living alone, so that person has to do more than just double the income. With her support I should be able to make even more. I live a good life now by myself, so with her I should be even happier. Either way, I am looking for someone who will deserve the 50% that the courts might give her in a divorce. She doesn’t really have to deserve it as long as I think she does.
Every partnership will end. If not through legal separation, it will end when one person dies. I want to leave everything I own to my wife when I die (sorry, estate planning lawyers). If she divorces me, I want to thank her for a great run and immediately give up whatever I have that will even the score. It might seem difficult to pick a player that valuable to my team, but that’s the only way I see to do it.
What do you think is the value of a spouse? How do you come up with that number?