Perhaps the biggest cost that you can face in a marriage is that of divorce. The average divorce in America costs between $15,000 and $30,000, according to LegalZoom, which adds up to between three and six months of salary for the average American household earning about $60,000 pre-tax.
That’s a lot of money. Add into that ongoing expenses such as child support and you end up with a life-changing expense where you’re putting a lot of food on the table of lawyers and not nearly as much on your own table.
That doesn’t even include the emotional trauma of divorce, which can have a great deal of impact spread throughout your life, affecting your other friendships, your family relationships, your professional life, and your internal life as well.
Of course, in order to have a divorce, you have to get married first, and it turns out that, according to Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon of Emory University, in their recent paper ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expense and Marriage Duration, there are a number of indicators as to the likelihood of divorce that pop up even before you’re married.
You might think of this list as a set of strategies that increase the likelihood of having a successful marriage, although that idea isn’t directly proven. These are simply eight features of successful marriages that originate from the period of dating and wedding and honeymoon planning.
Couples that date at least three years before their engagement are 39% less likely to divorce than couples that dated less than a year before their engagement. Even if you’re deeply and madly in love right now, it might be a good idea to wait a while before pulling out a ring. Relationships aren’t always in a constant flame of passion and a great relationship is one that can last through the ebb and flow of that passion due to the strength of other aspects of the relationship, and you can’t really tell whether that is true at first.
The greater your combined income, the lesser the likelihood of divorce. In fact, couples that make $125,000 or more combined per year have half the divorce rate of couples that make a combined $25,000 a year or less. Even topping that $25,000 a year threshold makes divorce 31% less likely. If you’re not earning much right now, it might be a good idea to make some choices to shore up your career and improve your earning potential before offering up a ring or accepting one.
People who attend church regularly are 46% less likely to divorce than those who never attend; “sometimes” attendees are actually 10% more likely to divorce than those who never attend. I would take that statistic to mean that people who share at least somewhat strong religious convictions and practice them together are substantially less likely to divorce.
Don’t marry someone for their looks, as that makes divorce 40% more likely. Looks don’t last. People age, and the beautiful face and body that you desire when you’re younger will fade over time. If one of the major reasons for marrying someone is their physical appearance and your attraction to it, you’re asking for marriage difficulty down the road as those looks fade away.
Don’t marry someone for their wealth, either, as that makes divorce 18% more likely. Interestingly, this seemed to be much more true in marriages where a woman is marrying a man for his wealth, which caused a 60% increase in divorce likelihood, than the reverse, which seemed to have relatively little impact on divorce likelihood. Regardless, marrying someone because of their bank account balance means that you’re marrying someone for reasons that have very little to do with that person at all. You need to focus on marrying the person, not the stuff you can extract from them, or else your marriage will not be a stable one.
The larger your wedding, the less likely you are to divorce. Even inviting a single person to your wedding causes your likelihood of divorce to drop by 35% compared to getting married with no guests. The more people you invite, the less likely divorce becomes, up to the point of inviting 200 or more people, which indicates a 92% reduction in the likelihood of divorce compared to a couple getting married with no guests.
The cheaper your wedding, the less likely you are to divorce. Interestingly enough, having a less expensive wedding also increases the chance of a successful marriage. Spending $1,000 or less on a wedding drops the chance of divorce by 53% compared to a wedding in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, whereas a $20,000 wedding (or more) makes divorce 46% more likely than a wedding in that middle $5,000 to $10,000 range.
Having a honeymoon makes divorce 42% less likely than if you didn’t have a honeymoon. Go away together right after your wedding. It’ll be good for the future of your marriage.
A Summary of the Strategies
Here’s a summary of the features of successful marriages.
1. Dating at least three years before getting engaged is better than getting engaged right away.
2. The more a couple collectively earns, the better (at least $25,000 combined, but more is even better).
3. Share religious beliefs and discuss and practice those beliefs regularly.
4. Don’t marry someone for their looks.
5. Don’t marry someone for their wealth.
6. Invite lots of people to your wedding.
7. Have the most inexpensive wedding you possibly can.
8. Go on a honeymoon.
How Did Sarah and I Do?
Did Sarah and I follow these strategies?
1. We dated for about five years before getting engaged, which reduces our divorce chances by 39% compared to people who quickly married.
2. Our combined income at the time of marriage reduced our divorce chances by 39% compared to low-income earners.
3. We shared our religious beliefs early on and practiced them together, making divorce 46% less likely than people who didn’t do that at all.
4. For me, at least, I didn’t marry Sarah for her looks or her wealth, which meant that we didn’t have any increase in divorce chances.
5. Our wedding had between 100 and 200 people present, which made divorce 84% less likely than a couple who married with no guests.
6. We spent between $1,000 and $5,000 on our wedding, which made divorce 18% less likely than a couple that spent between $5,000 and $10,000 on their wedding.
7. We went on a honeymoon, making our odds of divorce 41% less likely.
We’ve been married for more than 12 years. We have great conversations every day, a fair bit of romance, and a ton of cooperation when it comes to each other’s interests and needs. I can’t imagine us divorcing any time soon. That seems to match up well with the statistics and observations from this research article.
Do these ideas really serve as a checklist of things to do to prepare for a great marriage? I’m not sure. The article is mostly a series of observations about what different premarital features and behaviors do to alter marital outcomes.
My feeling is that this list can provide things for you to work on in your relationship and questions to ask yourself. Are you in love with looks? Bad idea. Are you in love with that person’s checking account? Also a bad idea. Do you share religious beliefs and practices? That’s a good thing. Are you planning a big wedding? That’s good. Is it an expensive one? Not so good. You get the idea.
I think that these suggestions collectively achieve a few things, the most important of which is that they point toward financial stability. Spending more than $10,000 on a wedding is not a financially stable choice and my feeling is that such a decision is often driven by just one member of the couple, meaning there’s a fracture already in place. Having a healthy combined income before you get married is a very financially stable choice, particularly when you combine it with not marrying someone for their wealth, which adds up to a prime indicator that both people are contributing – and are recognizing each other’s contributions.
So, will these ideas point you toward a perfect stable marriage? That’s far from a guarantee. However, they can point you toward attributes that have, in other couples, increased the likelihood of a stable marriage and, in the end, that’s what you want from your wedding. You want to leave your wedding day with a marriage in hand that has the greatest possible chance for long-term stability, and these are features that have been shown to increase that likelihood in the past.