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women & money

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[singlepic=34,560,560,,center]Photo by chiseled marble

I know somebody who is getting a divorce. I’m sure you do as well, but this person’s financial situation is somewhat unusual in that there are a lot of marital assets, and the spouse has used real estate and arrangements with his/her employer to hide additional assets from the eyes of divorce attorneys. This is a pretty common tactic for people who have a lot of assets and any experience with divorce, and since I’m not a party to this marriage I don’t know how this was arranged without both spouses knowing. I don’t know if it was 100% deceit on the part of the spouse who hid the money, or if the other spouse’s ignorance of all of the money concerns helped the deceit along. As is the case with most things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, not that this excuses criminal behavior against your spouse. But it brings up some interesting issues regarding marriage and money that I thought I’d discuss today.

Before I got married, I was advised by more than one person to maintain a separate savings account for myself. Though it was never made explicit, the assumption was that this separate account would contain money that was “mine” and “mine only,” and my husband (then fiancé) would not know about it or have access to the account. It would be, in effect, an emergency fund for me if there was some reason I needed to escape the marriage for any reason.

Though this advice was given with the best of intentions, by people who had experiences that made them believe it was a necessity, I ignored the advice for several reasons. First, because my husband and I completely merged our finances before we got married, and hashed out a household budget that accounted for both of our incomes and expenses, long before we were legally expected to do so. It was my contention then (and still is) that an essential part of getting married is the merging of two lives, and if that union excludes finances, then it cannot be said to be a wholehearted union, since you are holding something back. I don’t really believe that you can say you are in it for the long haul, when you feel like there is something you cannot share.

This is a pretty conservative, red-state stance for somebody like me to take. Particularly when you consider that both of my parents are divorce attorneys. But I have always wondered how much the divorce rate might be affected by these kinds of arrangements–I really believe that each couple should be allowed to decide what their marriage is going to be for themselves, but on the other hand, if we don’t give ourselves fully to a commitment, is it likely it’s going to stick? I don’t know.

The separate account argument takes various forms. Sometimes it involves a pre-nup that states that assets remain separate in the event View definition in a new window of a divorce in order to protect children from previous marriages. Sometimes, it is his-and-her accounts, with some kind of arrangement for splitting the bills based on percentages and relative incomes. Sometimes, it is just a private account with money stashed away “just in case” something happens, which in my mind is both the most problematic of forms and the most interesting. Because it shouldn’t be ignored that there are those occasions where an abused spouse has found themselves financially trapped in a marriage, with no way out, and a separate account in those cases might be the thing that allows them to escape.

In short, I find my views on commitment, feminism, and the realities of marriage in the post-modern era are at odds on this issue.

But here is how I handle the quandary of money in my own marriage. I am the one who manages the finances in our house, and Mr. Right-Click reads the budget each month so that he knows where everything is going. We both have names on and logins to all of our accounts, checking, savings, retirement, etc. We regularly check in with each other regarding expenses and balances. It would therefore be impossible for either of us to find ourselves in the situation that housewives (in particular) from an earlier era might have, viz. where they have no access to or authority with the household money and are completely dependent upon the other spouse for financial support. Of course, these things are always affected by the particularities of the marriage at hand. When there is family money coming into a marriage, the laws are different regarding what happens in a divorce. If there is a huge disparity in incomes, this also might come into play as far as how the money is handled. But I think that a smart person in a marriage–whether happy or otherwise–always avails themselves of information about the couple’s money. This system works well for us, and it is what I would recommend to people who are getting married. What works for you?

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