Marriage, Divorce and the Cost of Not Talking About Money

 In Money Habits & Attitudes Blog

A new article by personal finance expert Erica Sandberg talks about “Six Money Tips For Late-in-Life Divorces.”  Tips for exiting an extended marriage include:

  1. Employ a lawyer, judiciously.
  2. Create a “Now I’m single” budget.
  3. Prepare for merged debt.
  4. Plan to spend your settlement carefully.
  5. Be house smart.
  6. Discuss your finances with trusted loved ones.

Not surprisingly, the article notes that, “when one partner has always assumed the money management duties, the other is left with atrophied skills and a dangerous lack of awareness about how much they may own or owe.” Sandberg quotes Elizabeth Durso Branch, family law attorney and partner at McCurley, Orsinger, McCurley, Nelson & Downing  in Dallas, who says that:

“One would be surprised how many spouses have no idea what the other spouse earns, has in a 401(k) or even where their spouse banks.”

What we see with Money Habitudes is that the exercise gives couples a healthy framework to talk about money, even money secrets. Many couples don’t get into a pattern early in their relationship to talk about the taboo topic of money and that is perpetuated if only because the habit is that “we don’t talk about money.” And certainly studies consistently find that money is the number one source of arguments for couples so they often believe that it’s better to not engage on the topic than to risk a fight. Also, where one person doesn’t feel comfortable or confident in money or just isn’t interested in being involved with finances, the other will take on this role and think that it’s a good arrangement to handle the money but leave his or her partner out of the loop because he or she doesn’t want to be bothered or isn’t interested.

A common solution to this scenario is for couples to schedule regular financial updates where the person who likes dealing with the finances updates the other about what accounts they have, how much is in each, what insurance policies they have and what they cover, what the house, car, etc. are worth and the like. Just because one spouse doesn’t tell the other what he or she earns or if one got a bonus or how much is in the 401(k) doesn’t mean there’s malevolent intent; not talking about those things can, however, exacerbate interpersonal issues where a lack of discussion or information can be seen as a lack of trust … which in turn can lead to big problems or even divorce. A number of case studies highlight how Money Habitudes is used by couples on their own, as well as by professional therapists and counselors, to open up a healthy, constructive, enlightening dialogue around money.

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