Love. Pure, unabashed, crazy love. It makes people want to do courageous and life-altering things.
Like get married.
For many, there is nothing better than having a best friend and life partner. Unfortunately, for at least half the world’s married population, marriage won’t last forever. The issues leading to divorce are varied and complex.
I can tell you one thing, in my experience as a Phoenix divorce attorney, by far, the top reason leading to divorce is stress over money.
If you want to get married and stay married, talk with your significant other about money before you walk down the aisle. If you or your partner is saddled with a mountain of debt, consider NOT getting married just yet. Here’s why:
1. The best way to start a marriage is “fresh.”
No, we don’t live in a perfect world. Yes, there is some debt that is “good” debt (maybe like student loan debt), and yes, there is some debt that might not be paid off until you are on your deathbed (like student loan debt). Before getting married, talk with your partner about the debt that you each have, whether that debt is “good” or “bad” and whether you should put a wedding on hold until you pay all, some or most of it off.
Entering into a marriage with a boatload of already existing “bad” debt is overwhelming. Instead of focusing on your financial future together, your energy will be spent figuring out how to manage money messes created in “another life.”
2. You want to have resources available when emergency strikes.
Have you ever been in a situation where just as you were getting ahead financially, your car died and you had to pay for expensive repairs? Yep. Thought so. We’ve all been there.
Already having a mountain of debt could affect your ability to get an emergency loan for that car or roof repair. In other words, if you are forced to pay your mechanic for an engine overhaul instead of paying the Best Buy credit card bill, you can bet your bottom dollar one thing will happen:
Stress and tension in the marriage will go through the roof when the bill collectors start a ringin’.
3. Being in debt could be a sign of a deeper, emotional issue.
Just like alcoholism, spending can be an addiction. A spending “problem” doesn’t mean a person isn’t “good.” It could, however, mean a person is satisfying an emotional need by heading to the casino with credit cards in hand every weekend. As with any other addiction, the one with the “problem” has to acknowledge the “problem” to begin the recovery process. The failure to admit a problem while single-handedly causing the financial destruction of your relationship or your partner’s credit will certainly doom the marriage.
4. The excessive debt of one party could be a sign that you don’t share the same values.
When you are feeling that crazy high you get from being in love, you might overlook something big: similar values over spending and money.
You and your partner are different people. You can learn from each other. However, before tying the knot, have a frank discussion over your respective spending philosophies, how you will spend as a couple, and what your financial goals are for the relationship.
Doing this before getting married will either get you more into alignment on finances…or not. Either way, you will be walking into a marriage with open eyes over the spending values of your partner. That will put you one step ahead of many couples.
5. A large amount of debt can be an obstacle when trying to buy a house, car, or major shared purchase.
People get married to build a life together. Most individuals believe that with a partner, they can build something bigger and greater than they could alone. Imagine the shock and disappointment that will happen when one person learns they (the couple) can’t qualify for a home loan because of the high debt-to-income ratio of one spouse.
When you and your partner are talking about your mutual financial future, consider whether debt already exists and whether being in debt could affect the realization of your shared financial dreams.
6. In many places in the United States, a partner is “on the hook” for the spending of the spouse whether the partner knew about the spending or not.
Regardless of whether the spending is caused by a lack of shared financial values or an addiction, debt could plague both parties during the marriage and after the marriage is over. Depending on the laws of your state, if your partner made it a habit to max out credit cards for designer handbags or trips to the spa, in the event of divorce, you could be on the hook for paying some of that debt back…even if you had no idea it was happening!
The fact that you or your partner has racked up significant debt when you are dating could be a clue that a problem exists and needs to be addressed.
7. If your spouse has children from another relationship, back child support debt could lead to the examination of YOUR finances.
A person might be the best parent on the planet. That same person could have a gigantic judgment against him or her for child support arrearages. Depending on your jurisdiction, the failure to pay child support without a good reason could lead to serious penalties (which could include incarceration).
In evaluating the reasons for the failure to pay child support, a court will want to examine a person’s whole financial picture. This picture could include the standard of living as evidenced by joint bank account statements and joint tax returns. This will likely make one spouse feel exposed, violated and stressed out, things which are not good for the overall health of the relationship.
8. If you and your spouse plan to start a family, prepare for large chunks of money to begin leaving your bank account immediately.
Before a woman gives birth, she can bet her bottom dollar that her OB/GYN will want a guarantee of payment (or payment in full) for the delivery before it happens. Even if you have insurance and are responsible for a small portion of the whole cost of the birth, your out-of-pocket expense could still be thousands of dollars. In the months and weeks after the birth, expect to receive bills from other medical providers for blood tests, hearing tests, and various unexpected types of tests.
This is just the beginning!
Before getting married and having kids, deal with payment of that Visa bill so you can devote all your resources to the birth and care of your children. When the kids come, that is what you’ll want. That is what they’ll deserve.
9. Borrowing money to pay debt down during marriage could negatively affect important relationships.
In cases when disaster does strike during marriage and people aren’t able to make ends meet because of unpaid debt, they turn to family and friends. If a family member or friend is not able to help by giving a loan, this could cause tension in the relationship, especially if either side harbors resentment over the loan request or the failure to lend.
If the friend or family member does lend the money, bad feelings happen when the money isn’t paid back in the time period promised (or at all). What inevitably results from a broken promise to pay will be a damaged relationship with one or some of the most important people in your lives.
This could lead to isolation, depression and general unhappiness, all of which will affect your relationship with your partner.
10. If you are planning a special wedding ceremony, prepare to accumulate more debt.
The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is over $25,000. Some people are lucky enough to have parents who will foot the entire bill. Other couples pay for their weddings themselves.
If you and your partner are “on your own,” no matter how small you keep it, things will get pricey. The wedding industry is profitable for those in it and much to your surprise, you could be charged extra for something as simple as the type of chair you want your guests to sit in at the reception. If you plan to have a formal to-do for your once in a lifetime event, reduce the stress by paying down the existing debt first.
If you do decide to say “I do”, do you want your marriage to survive? If so, make a choice to be proactive about your debt and money situation with your soon-to-be spouse. By heading these issues off at the pass, you increase the chances that you and your partner will live a long, happy and financially secure future…together!