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Soaring rates of STDs among divorcees

31 July 2012

I grew up in Far North Queensland in a town called Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tableland. My recent visit to Cairns, which is not that far away from my old home and a place I also lived for a short time, brought back interesting memories. 

While I was there I was asked in a radio interview to imagine what my life might have been like if I’d stayed on the Tableland?

I’m not often speechless but the question left me blank. 

Luckily, my interviewer – a 75-year-old volunteer at the community radio station – answered for me: ‘You know what, Larke, you’d have been the Mayor’.

I’m not sure about that, but I’m 100 percent sure I wouldn’t be where I am today without the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met and, most of all, the opportunities I’ve taken.

It’s something I tell my two girls – and anyone else who’ll listen – all the time. Stay open to what life hurls at you. That means not putting off the things you want to do because you’re worried about making mistakes, or because someone else wants something different for your life. From experience, I know, what you are now is not what defines you later and it’s only the opportunities you do something with that will count.

Sure, I’ve made some horrible mistakes: investing unwisely in a venture with my ex-husband which failed is, I don’t mind admitting, a cracker. Look what it taught me about the importance of understanding and contributing to superannuation. It also made me very aware how important it is for women to remain financially independent and well educated about the choices they have throughout their lives, no matter what happens.

(Those who know me well also know I am a strong advocate for workplace diversity, which is why I want everyone to go to our 100 Women of Influence awards, which we’re partnering with the Financial Review to do, and nominate before they close for this year,

The figures aren’t encouraging: 1 in 3 marriages, I’ve been quoted, fail in Australia; 40 to 60 percent of relationship breakdowns occur over issues around money. Our research has shown just 25 percent of divorced women are happy with their financial settlement and, according to a piece in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 24: “Women’s household incomes suffer more than men’s after divorce, but it takes men longer to recover emotionally…

“The joint research, led by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, also highlights the significant impact divorce has on the financial assets of divorcees, which leads to many requiring greater government support in later life.”

Relationships, it’s where STDs in all their shapes and sizes rear their ugly heads, and having become a bit of a regular on Channel Ten’s morning TV program “The Circle” I thought, let’s tackle it: STDs at 9 in the morning.

That’s Sexually Transmitted Debt and, as obvious as it sounds, we find ourselves in it much more than we should.

Here are just some ways you might contract Sexually Transmitted Debt:

•Co-borrowing. Both of you have to keep up the payments because if one stops paying, and you split up, you could become liable for the entire amount. Why? Because statistically women are more reliable so the creditor will come after you. Statistically men account for 55 per cent of defaults – they get into debt more.

•Going guarantor for a loan. If the person you’re guarantor for won’t or can’t pay the loan, you’ll have to pay it.

•Credit card debt tied to joint bank accounts. In fact, joint bank accounts.

•Having the utilities, bills etc in your name or being the only name on a loan or mortgage. When the bills arrive you have to pay – even if you’re both using the services/benefitting. Women, it’s been found, are more likely to have their names on the utility bills so they suffer from this ‘STD’ when things fall apart in a relationship. 

Here’s a scenario: After 50 years of marriage your husband leaves for someone else. He kindly says you can have the house and he will take the cash and investment assets. He moves in with his new romance. She has her own house. Bingo: you and the new lady have STDs. 

You have no cash flow and a house that will have to be sold for you to live. He has cash and a new house he can move into and begin to make claims upon. His new partner could end up in a whole lot of financial hot water if she’s not been very careful about the terms and conditions around her own assets. You are in hot water unless you get advice and negotiate a much tighter more equitable settlement.

It’s all part and parcel of my message: make sure you secure your assets, ladies, and keep them secure and independent for your own (financial) health.

But Larke, it all sounds so cold and calculating?

I have to say, better than cold and homeless, but I do understand. The truly best advice is don’t put the conversation about finances and security off. If it seems unromantic why not have it with a third party involved, a financial planner, adviser, someone objective, who you can use to mediate a settlement plan between you that keeps you both okay in the worse case scenario.

The other way to approach it is from the point of view of any children you may both have, discussing everything in the terms of wills and inheritances and how both of you have obligations outside your relationship that need to be secured. 

Now, for the really scary stuff. I have a good friend, Suzanne Dvorak, who was the CEO of Marie Stopes International, which provides sexual and reproductive health care and education. The organisation also carries out and analyses all sorts of research and education programs. I remember being shocked when Suzanne told me that the highest rates of growth in STDs in the population occurred in people over 50.

In fact, a University of New England research project has found that low levels of condom use among older people in Australia contribute to the spread of STDs and something needs to be done.

Basically, the researchers say, this means recognising older people have sex lives, and introducing targeted sexual health education programs for them.

If nothing’s done, STDs will continue increasing in older people, and that will come at an enormous cost to their health and the health care system.

I stop short for advice on how to start this conversation, but Marie Stopes International is one place to start.


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  • Denise van Dijk

    Denise van Dijk 7 years ago

    Thoughtful and provocative article.Whilst not the entire answer, 'prenuptial' or, Financial Agreements can be entered into before de facto relationships, during and after the end of de facto relationships, and before marriage, during and after marriage - and can provide you with significant asset protection. Financial Agreements are most commonly used in the following situations:1. second marriages/second long-term relationships2. significant wealth discrepancy between the two people3. one party likely due a significant inheritance.Financial Agreements can protect whatever you each agree will be protected. For example, you can agree to:a. each keep your respective inheritances received during the relationship; or b. upon separation, agree to first pay back your parents for the loan they advanced for the purchase of your first home together etc. c. agree to isolate each of your own assets and liabilities owned before the relationship and otherwise equally share assets acquired during the relationship etc.Financial Agreements are very flexible documents and are under utilised. They may seem unromantic, they are a heck of a lot more romantic at the end of a relationship when your assets are protected, compared with a separation without an asset Agreement in place. Discussing the 'what if' at the commencement of a romantic relationship often leads to a generous and more appropriate Financial Agreement for women.

  • Susan Green

    Susan Green 7 years ago

    Great article - practical and actually touches on reality. This thing known as STDs are a sleeping giant in our relationships. Whilst we remain together with our partners it is not foremost in our minds and we do not realise the possible impact on us for the future until a relationship breaks down and you try to untangle the past. I am living proof of a nightmare that continued for 3 years after separating from my ex of 15 years - the problem with debt and getting untangled is a tough road and made harder when deciet was part of the other persons framework.I now also have another partner - but have gone in with my eyes wide open and have been very difinitive and clear about financial independance - this includes assets and debts - his, mine and jointly acquired in the relationship. It takes a very long time to build personal financial security - but it can be taken away from you right in front of your eyes. The legal bills associated with situations such as mine can kill you, so proper planning and the right approach from the beggining will pay off in the long run. Susan