Marriage is not only a union of hearts but also of finances. While love and commitment form the foundation of a successful marriage, the way a couple manages their finances can significantly impact their longevity. Money matters are one of the leading causes of marital strife and, unfortunately, sometimes divorce. Here, we bring you some tips on how to navigate financial issues within a marriage and divorce.
Top 6 Marriage-Killing Money Issues
How to prevent financial stressors from damaging your relationship
To help pave the road to better marital finances and relationships, here’s an accounting of the most common financial issues that challenge married couples.
1. Failing to Pool Earnings
When each spouse works and they can’t agree on financial issues or even find the time to talk about them, they sometimes decide to split the bills down the middle or allocate them in some other manner that seems fair and equitable. Once the bills have been covered, each spouse can spend what’s left as they see fit.
It sounds like a reasonable plan, but the process often builds resentment over the individual purchases made. It also divides spending power, eliminating much of the financial value of marriage. The couple who splits the bills probably hasn’t sat down to plan for their long-term goals such as buying a home or securing their retirement.
It can even lead to relationship-ruining behavior. When one spouse hides money from the other, it’s known as financial infidelity, and it can be as serious as the term implies.
Bill splitting also tends to leave out planning for big changes, including setbacks. How will the couple handle it if one spouse loses a job; decides to take a pay cut to try out a new career; leaves the workforce to raise children, go back to school, or care for a parent?
Couples owe it to themselves to have a conversation about such contingencies well before any of them becomes an urgent issue.
2. Carrying Old Debts
Most people come to the altar with some financial baggage, whether it’s student debt, credit card debt, or a gambling habit. If one partner has more debt than the other, sparks can fly when discussions about income, spending, and debt servicing come up.
People in such situations may take some solace in knowing that debts brought into a marriage stay with the person who incurred them and are not extended to a spouse. It won’t hurt your credit rating, which is linked to your Social Security number and tracked individually.
That said, in most states (those that operate under what is called common law), debts incurred after marriage jointly are owed by both spouses.
Note that there are nine states in which all property (and debts) are shared after marriage regardless of individual or joint account status. They are Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin.
In these community-property states, you are not liable for most of your spouse’s debt that was incurred before marriage, but any debt incurred after the wedding is automatically shared—even when applied for individually.3
3. Ignoring Personality Differences
Personality plays a big role in discussions and habits about money. Even if both partners are debt-free, the age-old conflict between spenders and savers can play out in multiple ways. It is important to know your money personality—as well as that of your partner—and to discuss these differences openly.
Some people are natural savers who may be viewed as cheapskates and risk-averse. Some are big spenders and like to make a statement, and others take pleasure in shopping and buying.
Others rack up debt—often mindlessly—while some are natural investors who delay satisfaction for the sake of future self-sufficiency.
Many of us may display more than one of these characteristics over time but usually revert to one main type. Whichever profile you and your spouse most closely fit, it’s best to recognize bad habits, address them, and moderate them for the good of the relationship.
4. Staging Power Plays
Power plays often occur in one of four scenarios:
- One partner has a paid job and the other doesn’t.
- partners would like to be working but one is unemployed
- One spouse earns considerably more than the other.
- One partner comes from a family that has money and the other doesn’t.
When one or more of these situations is present, the one who makes or has the most money often wants to dictate the couple’s spending priorities.
Although there may be some rationale behind this idea, it is important that both partners remember that they’re part of a team.
Of course, having kids isn’t just about the cost. If one partner cuts their hours, works from home, or leaves a career to raise children, couples should address how that changes marriage dynamics, assumptions about retirement, lifestyle, and more.
5. Coping With Extended Family
Co-managing finances while respecting the goals, needs, and expectations each spouse has regarding the extended family can be especially tricky.
His parents need a new car. Her brother can’t make the rent. His sister’s husband lost his job. Now one spouse is writing a check and the other wants to know why that money wasn’t used to address needs at home or fund a vacation for “us.”
When a serious crisis arises—illness, major storm damage, an unexpected death—the pressure can be magnified.
Family money dynamics work the other way, too. His mom will pay to fly him home for the holidays. Her mom will fund a new car because the one she’s driving is a Honda, not a Lexus. Her mom buys the grandkids extravagant gifts and his mom can’t afford to match that kind of spending.
The joys of a family often extend right into your wallet.
How to Handle Money Issues in a Marriage
If you’ve read this far, you probably won’t be surprised that the best way to handle such marriage stressors is with honest communication of expectations, hopes, goals, and anxieties. Couples should also practice empathy, have the maturity to check their egos, and abandon any predilection for control.
Yes, that’s much easier said than done. And no, there is no silver bullet.
Some people may never get it right, but that doesn’t mean they can’t employ certain tools and techniques to address the symptoms. Here are some issues and approaches that may help.
You and your partner need to be on the same page financially. Talk openly about your preferences for handling money, your goals for the future, and any concerns you have about how you jointly are handling your income.
And listen to what your partner has to say. Maybe one spouse likes to dine out three times a week but the other spouse worries about how that affects their budget. Or a husband keeps dialing back the thermostat to save money while his wife finds the chill unbearable. Attitudes towards money filter through many aspects of daily life.
And speaking of budget, you should have one, and it should be one that you agree upon going forward.
Set Financial Goals
Where do you want to go? A couple should come to an agreement on what their long-term goals are and how they’ll get there. Much of that discussion will involve financial matters. Whether your priorites include having children, buying a house, saving towards a comfortable retirement, or all of the above, they need to be planned for and agreed upon.
Deal With Debt
For many couples, dealing with debt is the first issue on the agenda. Knowing what you’re about to get yourself into can help you decide how to deal with it.
Given this fact, both partners should have an honest, nonjudgmental discussion—ideally around the time when their relationship looks like it’s becoming serious—about the debts they would bring into a marriage.
Each needs to come clean about any bad spending or financial habits that the other should know about—or any personal or family issues that could affect future spending.
Couples should also perform a full accounting of debts and talk about how they plan to handle them. It can help to apply one of several common debt payoff strategies, such as paying off the higher-interest debt first (the debt avalanche method) or paying off the smallest loans first (the debt snowball method).
Sign a Prenup or a Postnup
If you just can’t come to an agreement but your heart won’t let you walk away, a prenuptial agreement may be an option. Just be aware that one partner may find it insulting.
The best practice would be to first have a conversation about the financial anxieties that make one partner think a prenup is the best solution. If this is a second marriage for both partners, for example, they may have financial assets that they want to pass on to their respective children.
If you’ve already said “I do,” and you want more than vows to protect yourself, you may want to create a pain-free postnuptial agreement, also called a marital contract. This marital contract can underline your love for each other, though it can be a hard sell that winds up undermining marital trust if not used as intended or framed the right way.
On the other hand, a postnup can help save a marriage after a crisis that has undermined trust.
Know Your Financial Personality
Personality, as noted above, will play a major role in your financial plans and your marital bliss or lack thereof.
Pay attention while you are dating and be honest about who you are and how you were raised. Talking about your views and feelings can help put both partners at ease, or at least let them know what to expect.
Check Your Ego
The power play issue can get ugly quickly. Few things build resentment faster than being made to feel inferior. If you’ve got more cash, you need to be sensitive about how you present spending decisions. If you don’t have the money, you need to be prepared for stress and tension that is almost inevitable, even in good marriages. This subject comes up with increasing frequency when couples wait until later in life to marry.
Studies have shown that people with more power are more likely to act selfishly, impulsively, and aggressively, and approach others with less empathy.5 Each partner in a marriage should ask themselves whether their behavior works toward the goal of a more kind, appreciative, and equitable relationship or not.
One solution that has demonstrated success is for the higher-earning spouse to delegate all spending decisions to the lower-earning spouse. It takes a certain personality to be able to make the decision to give up power, but if you can do it, it may be a sound path to peace.
Address Family Matters
To quote Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Extended family can be a huge challenge, and no single piece of advice will properly address every situation and the emotions inevitably attached to them. Even if you are on the winning side of the argument, the loser can extract a penalty that outweighs the win. Living with a resentful, angry, frustrated spouse can be a miserable experience.
Having a policy agreed upon in advance (such as asking for consent) can help stave off trouble. And defaulting to understanding will smooth over any small transgressions.
6. Supporting a Growing Family
Whether and when to have children is, among much else, a financial decision. Food, clothing, shelter, Little League, ballet, designer jeans, prom gowns, minivans, and college tuition are on the long list of child-related expenses.
And that doesn’t include expenses for offspring who have already left the nest. That’s assuming your kids will leave the nest. Some never do.
We understand the intricate intersection of marriage, finances, and divorce. Our team of experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce lawyers is here to provide personalized legal support to protect your financial interests, ensuring a fair and equitable resolution. Contact us today at 954-888-8170, or email info@ZagerLaw.com. We can also be found on Instagram here.