Collaborative Life Planning

In the midst of pandemic lockdown, it feels as if the world is ending, and yet, the most stressful part of my life is scrolling through my Instagram feed. It seems as if a new celebrity break-up is announced every day. These are people I care about! If I see a throwback photo, I have to take a deep breath before I dare to read the caption. Normally, I can tell by a couples’ Instagram feed that they’re on the verge of a break-up. Still, some of these recent break-ups have caught me by surprise.

So, after taking a moment to process my grief, I started noticing trends among the headlines. One of my favorite Bachelor in Paradise couples, Carly Waddell and Evan Bass, split after three years and two children. As a huge fan of the How Men Think Podcast, I thought Julianne Hough and Brooks Laich were safe. I was devastated to discover that their three-year marriage had also ended. Another couple, country music singer Kacey Musgraves and her husband, Ruston Kelly, split after two and a half years of marriage.

Is any celebrity marriage safe? If not, how can regular people survive such turbulent times?

Planning To Fail

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed this disturbing trend. Legal Templates, a legal service that helps users draft standard legal forms, found that 58% of their users who requested divorce packets were married within the last five years. 20% of those divorces were from couples who were married in 2020! Can you imagine how expensive it is to pay for both your marriage and your divorce in the same year?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” I don’t think any of these couples planned for their relationships to end. The scariest part about marriage to me is that I would not only be marrying the person my partner is today, I would also be marrying the person he is after a death in the family. I would be marrying someone through his mental health episodes or medical emergencies. I can’t predict how my (future but currently non-existent) partner will change throughout the years, or can I?

Life Transitions

Both Musgraves and Hough had prenups with their respective husbands. I don’t know what assets they told their lawyers that they wanted to protect but some of the problems they experienced were predictable. Brooks Laich was open on his podcast about his struggle to adjust to a new career after his run as a professional hockey player had ended. His wife, Julianne Hough, enjoyed her career as a dancer, actress, and singer, which often kept her in the city. This difference in lifestyle became a problem when safer-at-home orders issued and Laich decided to quarantine apart from his wife in Idaho.

Carly Waddell and Evan Bass were also in the midst of a transition. They were new parents of young toddlers and in the process of buying a home together when Evan realized that he couldn’t live in their new home or marriage any longer. Waddell spoke about the end of their marriage in a YouTube video (where she is also seen sageing her new house of “bad vibes,”) describing how they focused too much on their children, rather than on their relationship. Waddell and Bass were in therapy for their relationship but just couldn’t make it work.

Set A Goal For Your Relationship

Would these relationships have evolved differently if these couples had discussed their life transitions before they married? If they had worked out a combined plan of attack? Collaborative Life Planning is a process that guides couples (and others who might be involved) through handling stressful events in a relationship, such as parenting, retirement, the end of a career, or caring for an elderly parent. This process differs from premarital counseling or therapy; couples leave with a written agreement that details who will be responsible for what, whether it’s “doing” or “paying” or whatever.

It can involve professionals such as lawyers, financial experts, parenting coordinators, and family counselors who can advise couples on potential problems and how to solve them before they happen.

If Laich had undergone collaborative life planning with his wife, a vocational expert could have explained that the average age of retirement for an NHL hockey player is 29 years old. She could have helped Laich plan for his new career. A mental health professional on the team might have explained to Hough what to expect from Laich as he navigated this new transition and how she could best support him through it.

If Waddell and Bass had undergone collaborative life planning, they could have discussed financial issues that arose from parenting. How would they split their finances if Waddell continued to stay at home with the children? What if Bass paid her a salary each month for her contribution to the home? Would she transition back to the workforce after the kids started school? What if she wanted to continue her education? An attorney on the team could draft a post-nup which would designate how much Bass paid her each month and create a schedule for payment.

The Symptom Is Not The Cause

At the beginning of a relationship, singles should decide if they’re willing to put in the effort to build a committed relationship with another. They may not tell each other, but she is considering if a one-hour drive is worth one dinner with him. He may decide her frequent late nights at the office are not worth spending his night off alone on the couch flipping through Monday night football.

Every relationship has trade-offs. However, when we only have a few months invested in someone, rather than a few years, it’s easier to move on from something that may not be what we expected. However, through collaborative life planning, a couple learns how to set realistic expectations of how their relationship might change over time, setting in place agreed-upon strategies for how to cope.

A relationship is not something that should be left to the chance. Couples (married or not) can plan how to build a life together that withstands changing circumstances through collaborative life planning. If you’re interested in learning how to protect your relationship, reach out to us at Open Palm Law.

Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author, Madison Sasser.

Madison Sasser joined Open Palm Law during the COVID-19 pandemic as our new undergraduate intern, a senior at the University of South Florida, studying Political Science with her minor in Creative Writing. She was a member of the USF Mock Trial Team and traveled across the state, competing in simulated trials against other top universities. She organized tournaments for her local mock trial team and was part of the founding team for Resilience Inc. a nonprofit focusing on providing children with resources for social-emotional learning. After graduation, she will apply to law school.

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