If you’re married, chances are more than likely that you’ll get a divorce. Sorry to burst your happily-married bubble, but the numbers don’t lie. While 59% of first marriages make it to “happily ever after,” studies have found that only 40% of second marriages have similar luck. By your third marriage, you’re looking at a 73% chance of divorce. Ouch.
The good news for doctors: divorce among physicians isn’t as common as some might think. A study published by the journal The BMJ found through an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data that physicians are actually less likely to get divorced than dentists, health-care executives, nurses, and even lawyers. (Why are lawyers on that list? Because their income is similar to a physician.) The professions most likely to get divorced are salespeople, optometrists, podiatrists, and nuclear or agricultural engineers.
That being said, being a physician doesn’t preclude you from the chances of divorce. And if you have your own medical practice when that divorce comes, it could wreak havoc on your practice. Divorce for physicians is not only straining on the physician’s finances, but also those of the business. To protect your practice, take this advice for navigating divorce for physicians:
- Sign a prenuptial agreement
A prenup is perhaps the best way to protect your interests and your practice on the off chance of a divorce. A prenup (aka prenuptial agreement) is a contract signed by both to-be spouses before marriage which outlines each of their ownership rights to their assets in the event of a divorce. For a prenup to be successful a few things must occur: First, both parties must enter into it willingly. Second, the agreement needs to be reasonable. That means if you’re the breadwinner, you can’t write your spouse out of everything but the silverware. Third, both you and your future spouse need to sign the contract before your wedding day.
If this means it’s already too late for you, there is such a thing as a postnuptial agreement. Same terms apply except that the spouses sign the agreement after they’re already married. That being said, not all states recognize postnups and postnups are challenged and invalidated far more often than their prenup brethren.
Whether you’re entering into a prenup or postnup, ensure the agreement specifically addresses each of your rights to your medical practice in the event of divorce. Also make sure you both sign in front of witnesses – preferably a notary, or, if you really want to make your divorce lawyer happy, a judge.
- Try for mediation
When it comes to divorce for physicians, there’s often a lot of money at stake. As all divorce lawyers will tell you, when there’e a lot of money involved, the boxing gloves tend to come out. This doesn’t have to be the case for you, however. If you and your spouse are able to leave your gloves at home, mediation can be a very cost-effective and lower-stress divorce process.
In mediation, you and your spouse can sit with a divorce attorney or other neutral third party who is knowledgeable about the applicable laws. While only one third party need be present to mediate, it’s never a bad idea to seek your own counsel, especially in divorce for physicians. It’s also a good idea to have your own, separate counsel review the contract once you and your spouse have reached an agreement.
- Seek qualified counsel
Whether you’re signing a prenup, about to begin mediation, or simply looking for advice, make sure any divorce counsel you work with has experience helping physicians. Divorce for physicians is a thorny process and requires particular care. The last thing you want is to get snagged on a thorn your counsel didn’t know was there.
No one walks into marriage planning for divorce. (At least, no one we want to know.) But it’s as sad fact of life that not all marriages end in “happily ever after.” Equally unfortunate is what a divorce can do to a physician’s medical practice. Don’t let divorce bankrupt your practice. Take our advice and have a prenup (or postnup) in place and seek mediation. Most importantly: make sure any divorce counsel you work with is experienced in working with physicians.