Women Mourn, Men Replace
The adage “women mourn, men replace” is one of those things I came across as a lawyer going to lawyer events. It’s a truism. We usually expect that if the wife dies first, the widower will remarry quickly.
I’ve seen it happen many times in my law practice. A man loses his wife, and then he gets married. Typically, within one year. A New York Times article indicated the average wait-time for men is about 2 ½ years. It may be quicker for Muslims men though, particularly those who want a halal relationship. Now, of course, women can get remarried as well. It’s just that they often do not seem to be in a big hurry to get remarried.
If you are married, you know your husband, your wife in a particular context. You are a big part of that context. You don’t know what your spouse would be like without you as the context. If I bring up the subject of remarriage a wife might say something like “Remarriage? Seriously? Who would marry him?” Probably lots and lots of women. It’s not that hard.
So what if they do remarry?
Of course, remarriage should be encouraged. It’s a good thing when two people, regardless of their age, find companionship and love and forge a path together. There are two major problems though. The first is accidental disinheritance, and the second is just generalized fitna.
Now the “accidental” disinheritance is easy. I wrote about it in my guide to Islamic Inheritance. It is the Cinderella backstory. Parents don’t think about the issue and don’t worry too much about the possibility that their children may become orphans.
The other part is generalized fitna. Fitna happens when there are older children. It is relatively common for re-marriage to result in cut off relations or toxic relationships, because a new wife, almost universally referred to by the children as “that woman,” will be viewed as a threat. They might be considered gold-diggers or worse. If she comes with her adult children, and if the families do not seem to mesh, things can get even worse.
So what to do?
I have a few practical steps that families can address that can hopefully reduce the level of potential fitna in a family. Those steps can come both before any remarriage happens because both spouses are alive and neither knows who will go first and of course after death has already taken place and remarriage is about to happen or has already happened.
One of the most important things to do is specify in writing what property belongs to the husband and what property belongs to the wife. Most people don’t bother doing that. Spouses own everything together, and everything goes to the surviving spouse. Remember, each spouse is his or her economic unit and has “stuff” that is specific to him or her.
Protect the Children
Do not assume that the surviving spouse will always look after the interests of the children at all times and in all situations. What a man is or is not is in large part dependent on his wife. Don’t assume that he will always be married to you. While the wife of a widower is often given a bad rap in popular culture and adult children often mistreat them I can say with some experience, some of them are villainous. Brilliant men often cannot tell the difference between a virtuous potential wife and one that is, well, not so much. Remember, they are usually in a huge hurry to get married again and are often not as particular as they were the first time around.
The way to best protect the children is to make sure your assets are either distributed to your heirs right away after your death or distributed to a trust they are beneficiaries of, in proportion to their rights in Islam. Don’t compromise on rights.
Don’t Marry an Enemy
My professional advice mantra: The best Estate Planning advice is not to get a good lawyer or do a living trust or anything like that. It is “marry wisely.” Even the best most brilliant plans can often not make up for a bone-headed nuptial decision. Remember, according to the Quran, wives can be your enemies. Don’t marry an enemy.
Do background checks. Check out not just the prospective spouse, but family members, including children. They are all going to be players in this drama. Know who they are. I had a case where a smart, successful man ended up marrying into a family of professional grifters, found his criminal wife from a “wrong number” call. After she and her family stole millions, you start to wonder what he was thinking. He was not.
Hopefully, you won’t go into a business partnership without checking out the background of your business partner. Did he rip anyone off before? Has he been to prison? For marriage, often people don’t bother to check. There is such an immense need for companionship that these little details usually don’t matter. Sweat the details. Your family will be the better for it.
Consider not officially getting married.
I have seen people, especially the elderly, so fear the reaction of their adult children that they end up getting “confidential marriages.” Don’t let the term fool you. In California, confidential marriages are legal and fully enforceable. You cannot look up these marriages in a public database. Confidential marriages can often be used by scammers to commit elder abuse against the elderly.
Don’t do crazy things like confidential marriages to avoid judgment from your adult children. However, it is true that children do see marriage as a threat, Moreso when we age. However, there is a way to make it not a threat. In Islam, you don’t need to get officially married. Do a nikah. You can also do something called a “cohabitation agreement” that sets out the rights of the parties involved. There would be no community property and no joint ownership of anything for example.
Often prenuptial agreements are an obvious solution. Be clear from the beginning that marriage is not meant to be a financial partnership that would be disadvantageous to one party or another and certainly not for the children. It should also have provisions that protect the children and their rights.
Control Business Arrangements
One of the concerns in the family is when there is some financial disparity between spouses, and one spouse engages in a business partnership or loan arrangement with another spouse. I would strongly caution against this because for some family members; this can often wreak of exploitation or of taking unfair advantage. However, it there is going to be some business arrangement, it should be an “arm’s length transaction.” It depends on what we are talking about exactly, but in some cases, it may make sense to bring family members, outside lawyers or other third parties involved. The object of all of this is to avoid fitna. Financial transactions among family members can often lead to serious fitna.
Consider a memorandum of understanding.
Some second wives will develop a vice grip on their new husbands and isolate them from the rest of his family. This kind of thing does not happen immediately, but often over time. Other times, there is mutual hostility that develops, and it may be the adult children’s fault. To avoid problems, make sure you have principles, rules of engagement. Rules may include regular visits, no cutting off family ties under any circumstances, how money or the family business is dealt with and so forth. It may be necessary to arrange to facilitate this kind of agreement through a professional team. The benefit of this, however, is that there are always rules that families can refer to that will both reduce risk and provide a roadmap for solving problems.
Think about the end at the beginning
Look, being an adult is hard. Contemplating loss, actually losing and then starting over, often in a massive hurry, can take an emotional toll. Before every journey though, you should plan. You are always at the beginning point of someplace leading to another. You need to think about the repercussions of what you will leave behind. A widower in a mad-dash to get remarried may be one of those things.