Divorce Lawyer Insights on Money and Marriage

While I would never suggest that one can “divorce-proof” their marriage, I do have pragmatic suggestions for staying out of my office. One of the most common sources of conflict comes in shades of green, and it’s not envy. Here are four money-related tips for the newly engaged and newlyweds — perhaps seemingly obvious, but in my experience, grossly overlooked.

Show me the money! Don’t enter into the legal contract of marriage until you know answers to fundamental financial questions about each other: How much do you earn? What are your assets and liabilities? Have you ever filed bankruptcy? Do you pay child or spousal support? If you own a business, what are its assets and liabilities? A lack of transparency regarding the financial backgrounds of both spouses has been the springboard to many of the divorces we’ve handled. Don’t put yourself in marital mayhem by keeping money secrets.

Match your money-mindsets. Compatibility in this area can play a critical role in the longevity of most marriages. Many clients end up in our offices because of a clash in financial temperaments; one was focused on a healthy financial future while their spouse preferred to live (and spend) for today. A prenuptial agreement can be a valuable tool for sorting out these differing perspectives and planning responsibly should there be a parting of the ways.

A marriage is not just a romantic partnership. It is a financial partnership, not to mention a legally binding contract.

Know how the finances work. Once you tie the knot, keep yourself in the know about how the marital bank accounts and credit cards are utilized, what bills are paid and when, and what the monthly cash flow looks like.

Just because one spouse is responsible for making sure everything on the money side of the relationship gets handled does not mean that both spouses shouldn’t be fully aware of the economic landscape. Much like both parents want to be fully involved in the lives of the kids even though one spouse stays home while the other works, both spouses need to engage in the financial health of the marriage despite who actually holds the checkbook.

On the other side of the coin, keeping your spouse in the dark about finances is not only a breach of fiduciary duty, but could be grounds for a restraining order.

Honor love, death, and taxes. Prioritize conversations with your accountant and estate planner. Your marriage is likely to trigger a change in your tax filing status. And if you happen to be paying spousal support from a prior union, the new tax law is something you’ll want to keep tabs on — 2019 marks a change in how support is treated. Don’t forget to update the beneficiary of your retirement accounts and life insurance policies, and discuss end-of-life financial plans, as grim as it may feel as newlyweds.

A marriage is not just a romantic partnership. It is a financial partnership, not to mention a legally binding contract. Nurturing that part of your marriage is vital if you want your relationship to mature, deepen, and thrive. Don’t be afraid to make the money-part of your marital life transparent — it can lead to a much healthier marriage, and ultimately to a far more romantic partnership success story.


A version of this article first appeared in Outword California magazine, Issue No. 14.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil M. E. Forester is Shareholder of FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC, a Northern California law firm focused exclusively on specialized counsel for complex divorce and family law issues. He is recognized by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization as a Certified Family Law Specialist. Neil regularly represents business owners, professionals, and other high net worth individuals (or their spouses) in divorce, premarital agreements, and related actions. Beyond his legal practice, Neil serves as Board Chair for WEAVE and NorCal Boxer Rescue. He can be reached at info@foresterpurcell.com or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.
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