You are probably going to get divorced.
Not tomorrow and not next year. But with nearly 50% of marriages ending in divorce at some point, you are highly likely to have to deal with the big D at some point in your life. Think it won't be you? Think you'll beat the odds? Try this little though experiment. Find a 3 cylinder pistol and put one cartridge in - spin the wheel and then point it at your knee and pull the trigger. You've got a 66% change of walking away unscathed. On the other hand, you might just end up blowing off your own knee cap. You probably won't die, but you'll never be the same. Trust me, getting divorced as a 40 something with two kids is probably more damaging and painful. Think I'm exaggerating? Look up suicide stats for divorced men and realize how many of us end up pointing that gun at our own heads.
If you still think that divorce isn't something that will happen to you and doesn't warrant any planning on your part - congratulations. You're an incurable romantic. On the back of your dress shirt is a large $ sign that divorce lawyers will flock to like moths to a flame in a few years, but congratulations. The rest of this piece is for those of you who are a bit more realistic.
1. The deck is stacked against you.Simple fact. In most states, you are going to draw the short end of the stick when it comes to child support and child custody. You are going to end up on the losing side among all your 'shared friends' and you are going to be the homeless one. The courts will argue that they are acting in the best interests of the children - and since the courts still operate under 1950's ethics, as the man you aren't considered an equally competent parent.
2. Alimony sucksLiterally. Your lovely wife who probably has as much (if not more - given trends in female college attendance rates) education and job opportunities as you - and who will argue loudly in favor of equal pay - and who is at the time of marriage probably taking home a comparable paycheck will be in some states entitled to lifetime alimony from you. LIFETIME. Kids will come and in most cases, it will be your wife who takes time off from work and who drops out of the job market to watch the kids. Doing so drops her pay. Once divorce is final, your wife will have an opportunity to continue her part time (or no time) work schedule while you suddenly have to work double time to pay for her trips to the Bahamas, new car and home renovations - all while she tells the kids that you have abandoned the family and are doing nothing to help. Alimony sucks more than money, it sucks lifeblood.
3. Divorce disrupts everythingTrying to manage a divorce without the social support your wife enjoys - while working an extra job or two to pay alimony and child support - while living in a crappy appartment and trying to keep your kids happy can crush the best of us. I've heard countless cases of this pressure impacting work and your job performance - which in some cases leads to no job. If you are used to traveling around the world for business - guess again. In your post divorce world, business travel is almost impossible when you have limited chances at seeing your kids. Don't count on your job or current level of income persisting past the point of divorce. On the other hand you can count on your current salary being used to determine how much alimony and child support you can afford.
4. You won't see your kids as muchHere is the most ironic part. Remember your lovely wife telling you that you need to spend more time with the kids? That you need to help more with kids chores? That you should take them to the movies more often and work less? In the most ironic twist of fate, the big D instantly revokes all of this. Your ex (with the blessing of the courts) will tell you to work more and see the kids less. In my case, I was offered 4 nights per month with my own children. In my state you (as a male) stand no chance at getting sole custody and shared custody has to be agreed on by your wife (the courts won't grant shared custody in the event of disagreement on either spouse's part).
Once you don't have any custody in place you can't:
pick your kids up from school without preapproved permission (I'm still listed as not permitted to pick up my 17 year old daughter from high school
take your kids with you on vacation without a permission slip - which she doesn't have to give.
sign permission slips for school activities
bring your kids to counseling (my ex sent a cease and desist letter to the family therapist I was seeing when I started bringing my daughter with me to try and get us talking again).
ask the courts to enforce visitation. My ex has often taken my girls away despite visitation schedule. Because I have no custodial rights all I get by complaining (or going to court) is a sympathetic "too bad for you".
So what to do? Probably too late to return the engagement ring, and the wedding is already scheduled so forget calling the whole thing off. Besides, if you do want to have kids, getting married is probably a good idea anyway - and hey, maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones who celebrates their 63 wedding anniversary surrounded by adoring grandchildren.