Cheaters Anonymous

Mothers. Fathers. Husbands. Wives. Every one of them betrayed.

Yes, as we’ve learned this week, 37 million members of the world’s second largest dating website, Ashley Madison (catch-cry “Life is short. Have an Affair”), have had their personal details hacked.

What a total betrayal of their trust!

The hackers, who call themselves ‘Team Impact’, have threatened to start publishing intimate details about users unless Ashley Madison shuts down the site (which is known as the ‘Google of cheating’). But I think Team Impact could also make a financial impact. After all, they’ve got 37 million people by the short and curlies. Forget Julian Assange — this is way bigger than Wikileaks. I’m calling it Dikileaks.

See, as anyone who has been divorced will tell you, it’s the quickest way to lose 50 per cent of your wealth. So imagine if the hackers emailed each Ashley Madison member and offered to scrub their name off the list in exchange for, say, $10,000. It’d be a good deal both ways: the cheaters would get off lightly, and Team Impact could buy New Zealand and live happily ever after with their $370 billion haul.

Apparently, there are as many as one million Aussies who may have nervously stopped at the servo to buy flowers on the way home this week, after they heard about the hack.

Yet what if your relationship hasn’t detoured down the sleazy alley of the interwebs, but you’re not exactly living a Mills & Boon novel? Well, you’re normal. In fact, research from Relationships Australia has found that the leading cause of divorce is marriage. The second? Money problems.

So what steps can you take if you want to have fewer money fights and more pillow fights? Well, I’m no relationship expert (as my wife would attest), but I am a money expert, so let’s deal with that.

More Conversations, Less Assumptions

Over the years I’ve received literally hundreds of emails like this from women across the country:

“My husband just assumed I would take time out of my career to have kids. And I did. And I love them. But in the process I’ve also given up my financial independence. He’s the breadwinner, and I don’t feel he sees me as an equal. We fight about it a lot.”

While it’s true that mothers will take time out of their career, it’s also true that they’re taking on the toughest, most underpaid job in the world: taxidriver, toilet cleaner and therapist.

The problem I’ve found is that many women waltz down the aisle without thinking through what life will be like when they’re knee-deep in nappies — without access to their own money. And, like a boiling frog, they generally only deal with the issue much later on. (Studies suggest that couples let their relationships fester for seven years before addressing these issues with counselling. It’s socially acceptable to get a personal trainer to work on your fitness, or have a financial planner help you with your money, so why do we consider couples counselling something to be ashamed of?)

Raising a family should definitely be a joint venture. But how do you reach an agreement with the board? Read on.

One Account, One Vote

When we were first married, my wife was a successful television producer earning good coin, and was financially independent. However, we also discussed the fact that we wanted lots of little tax deductions, which would mean that she would spend a few years out of the workforce over the next decade.

Our strategy is simple (and to date, effective): we have a shared bank account that our wages go into. After our bills are paid, both of us are free to spend the remainder on whatever we like — the only rule is that for anything over $400 we talk to each other first. It’s not about asking for permission, but about keeping the lines of communication open and ensuring we make the big (and not so big) money decisions as a team.

It’s Time to Get Intimate

In most relationships there’s one person who controls the nitty-gritty of the finances, and the other is generally more than happy with the arrangement. However, I’ve written previously about one of the most powerful moments of my life: watching my wife clutching my son as she looked over the burning wreckage of our home. It was the closest thing I’ll ever get to watching her deal with my death.

Heavy, I know. Yet here’s the thing: every day a husband, a wife, a partner dies unexpectedly — and if they’re the money nerd of the team it compounds the grief with untold stress. That’s why the ultimate unselfish act is to open yourself up and give your partner the keys to your financial life, today.

So my final piece of advice is this. Over the next month put the following into a folder: the contact details of your accountant, lawyer and financial planner. A copy of your up-to-date will. Your account details and passwords for your bank accounts, loans, investments, insurance and superannuation. Copies of your driver’s licence, passport and Medicare number. Your online passwords to Facebook, Twitter, email accounts and … whatever else you have. Store the folder in a bank safe.

And there’s an added bonus to doing all this …

If you find out in a few weeks that your partner was active on Ashley Madison, you can promptly hand the folder to a pit-bull lawyer with instructions to screw them back!

Tread Your Own Path!