Dear Mr. Berko: I'm a successful female executive who is a few years away from being what some people call a “baby boomer.” Now, after 25 years of marriage, I'm in the process of seeking a divorce. Both our children have advanced degrees, are married and well-employed. My 59-year-old husband, who is a “baby boomer” and 12 years my senior, quit his job as a magazine editor 20 years ago to take care of an ill child (I earned three times his salary), and by tacit agreement, he never returned to work. He decided to become a househusband and has been trying to write the proverbial great American novel for decades. The separation is friendly, but this background info is necessary to explain my dilemma. We're not using counsel, because others we know have employed divorce lawyers who yanked their chains, depleted their cash reserves, encouraged distrust and intentionally lengthened the divorce procedure. Then, when there was no money left, the lawyers hurried to get their divorce papers signed. Fortunately, the division of our household property is amicable, expect for the division of financial assets. So the major question is, would it be better in the long run to give him half of my individual retirement account, my pension and our joint stock account or make alimony payments for the rest of his life? We have been reading your column for more than 15 years and trust your advice. P.S. What is the definition of “baby boomer”? I despise that appellation.
SL, Columbus, Ohio
Dear SL and Spouse: “Baby boomer” refers to those born during the biggest “boom” in our population growth, between 1946 and 1964. The best explanation of the impact of the baby boom was discussed by economist Harry Dent (born in 1950) in his 2011 best-seller, “The Great Depression Ahead.” His research data show that consumer spending habits begin to wane between the ages of 50 and 55. Dent, a Harvard graduate, also concluded that the U.S. and European stock markets will peak between 2008 and 2012 because as these boomers approach 55, they seriously conspire to retire.
So these boomers reduce their discretionary purchases; the economy experiences spikes in unemployment; demand for homes begins to fall; and then the economy begins to founder. Hence, your soon-to-be-ex-spouse won't be spending so much money on things and stuff at age 59 as he might have spent at age 49. This could be a debating point when determining the amount of alimony or the lump sum to be distributed. And though I'm older than a baby boomer, I'm incredulous at how much less I need to spend today versus how much I used to spend 10 years ago. What a difference 10 years can make in our lives.
I get this “alimony or lump sum” question several times a year. It's usually asked by the husband, though the gender of the interlocutor doesn't determine my answer. My first response is, “Get thee to an attorney.” There are attorneys in Columbus who won't squeeze your eyeballs, pull out your fingernails or use intimidation to pad their fees.
My daughter, Hilary, who is an attorney and one of the good ones, gave me three names in Columbus, which I've passed to you. She said they are good people who charge fair fees. You should visit with each to discuss charges, fees and options so there are no surprises. Hilary also told me to tell you that a divorce is too important an event in your life and your future to go through without the benefit of a knowledgeable and experienced counsel. Finally, Hilary said to tell you that “alimony is like making monthly payments on a car with four flat tires, and a lump-sum payment is bounty from the mutiny that only has to be paid once.” There's something to be said for that bit of wisdom. I wish the best for you folks.
Address financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.