By Lissa Rapoport, JD
Getting married is a wonderful time in a couple’s journey. People are happy, in love and ready to start a life together as a married couple. This is actually the best time to talk about your respective expectations around what being married means to each of you, how you view money, savings, debt, children, college education for your children and retirement, for example.
People often bring into their relationships the good and bad experiences they had with their parents’ divorce, their best friend’s divorce, their own prior divorce. Also, people often find it difficult to talk about money in general. When creating a partnership with another person, it is vital that you are able to talk about financial issues so that you can create the best possible platform – not only for dealing with finances but also in having hard conversations. Many marriages falter, not because two people don’t love each other, but because when things get hard, they don’t know how to talk to each other about important topics – such as money.
Here are ten things couples should talk about before they get married:
- How do we want to deal with assets we bring into the marriage (i.e. a home, retirement accounts, savings, stock and stock options)? Talking about what each of you is bringing into a marriage can help you identify your expectations around what might become joint versus what might remain separate.
- How do we want to live? Having a common understanding of what you want your lives to look like, where you both want to live, and at what standard of living you want to live your lives together will help you talk about how to establish your goals together.
- Do we want to have a budget? When two people begin to share a household, talking about the monthly expenses and setting expectations can help a couple avoid unnecessary conflict.
- How do we want to share our monthly bills? For couples who earn the same income, sharing monthly expenses seems logical. Issues often arise where one person makes significantly more than the other. Couples often struggle with how to share their financial lives.
- Do we want to pool all, some or none of our resources? Many couples struggle with how to build their lives together in a way that feels equitable to both of them. Some couples want to pool all of their income while other couples want to share some of their income and to have some income that is theirs alone. It helps to have a conversation about what partnership looks like to each person.
- How do we deal with premarital debt? Often people bring some amount of debt into a marriage (i.e. credit card, student loans, business related debt). Having a conversation about how to deal with that debt, how quickly to pay it down, and how it should be paid down are useful things to talk about before you get married. Again, setting expectations can reduce conflict and encourage open communication.
- What is our respective debt tolerance? This is an important topic for couples to talk about and to have some sense of consensus around. Knowing your own debt tolerance is as important as understanding your partner’s perspective on debt. Some people are comfortable leveraging their financial lives, while for other people debt is a source of anxiety and stress. Understanding where each of you falls in this spectrum will help the two of you create a mutual understanding of how much debt is acceptable.
- Do we want children? While this one seems relatively obvious, many couples make assumptions around what they believe the other person wants while never really talking about the topic directly. There are also a lot of topics that flow from whether a couple wants to have children or not. If they do, would one of you stay home? Would one of you want to stay home for a period of time, or not. How do you share the responsibility of raising a child.
- If we want children, how do we each feel about paying for their college education? Believe it or not, this is often a source of contention for couples. One might have had to put themselves through college and felt that the experience made them stronger. The other might have had parents who were able to pay for their college allowing them to start their professional lives without student loans. Talking about what is important to both of you with regard to your children’s education will help you create a plan going forward.
- Do we want to explore a formal premarital agreement? Once you have all of the conversations above, you may want to explore whether you want to formalize those discussions in a premarital agreement.