Some couples see marriage as the beginning of a journey during which they will come to better know and love each other every day. Others prefer to have a clearer view of the path on which they are about to embark. Toward that goal, couples should take the time to explore some basic issues which will confront nearly all married couples. These are some of the more important discussions for persons about to marry.
Money and Finances. Financial issues are a leading cause of divorce. People about to join their lives should discuss if and how they will join their finances. Spending habits and the existence of current debt should be disclosed. Disclosure of all financial accounts is a must. Keeping a secret bank account is sure way to deal a serious blow to the marriage once the account is discovered. Couples should determine if they will share joint credit cards and bank accounts and whether income from all sources will be combined.
Other important issues include how much each might contribute financially to purchase of a home or car, whether retirement accounts will be established and how each views saving, investing and long-term financial goals. Feelings about lending money to family members, living within a set monthly budget and how much debt is acceptable are also worthy of conversation.
Property. Each person brings property into the marriage. From a legal standpoint, those items are considered that individual’s separate property. Couples should discuss how future acquisitions will be considered. For example, most states view property obtained after marriage via inheritance and gifts as that person’s separate property when allocating property in a divorce. Discussing how an inheritance and other items which may be received from a parental estate will be treated may prevent a later conflict. If one or both parties bring substantial property into the marriage, talking about a prenuptial agreement may be in order.
Personal history. Starting a marriage while harboring significant secrets about your past is asking for future trouble. Bringing the skeletons out of the closet demonstrates both trust of your future spouse and a commitment to honesty in the relationship. Issues related to family, health, prior alcohol or drug use, excessive gambling or criminal activity are best addressed up front.
Children and parenting. You might wonder how a couple about to be married could avoid discussing this issue, yet discussion is often replaced by assumption only to find a couple struggling with major differences in views a few years into the marriage. Couples should discuss the number of children they envision having and what specific circumstances should exist before starting a family. How might financial stability and career choices impact family expansion? If health issues prevent pregnancy, would adoption be a viable alternative?
Parenting styles are often based on a person’s own upbringing, and spouses may bring completely different experiences to the marriage. As such, exploring a few basic topics about child raising makes sense. After a child arrives, will one person become a full time stay-at home parent? Will use of daycare while both parents work be acceptable? Will discipline be enforced as a team or, primarily, by one parent?
The in-laws. Each party to a marriage typically becomes part of a newly expanded family. This creates plenty of new relationships to navigate and potential new obligations. Couples should discuss how much interaction with their own family members they anticipate after the marriage. Will in-laws expect attendance at certain holidays and occasions? Will you expect your spouse to take part in your family’s traditions or will you start new traditions to celebrate events? Will vacations be shared with a spouse’s family? Consider what obligations may arise to help provide care for aging parents.
Future residential plans. Career choices can lead to frequent changes of locale. Particularly when you and your partner were raised in different geographic regions, it would be prudent to discuss where you see yourselves living once the choice is entirely yours. Don’t simply presume that because you spent your youth on the west coast that a spouse raised in the Florida will naturally be agreeable to settle down thousands of miles from family. Remaining flexible on location is great. Just be sure you’re both on the same page.
Personal time. Each person in a marriage brings a set of friends and a background of engaging in leisure activities which has been pleasurable. These may not necessarily be completely compatible with a new spouse. Couples should discuss how they feel about each other having separate time to see their own friends or do things each has come to enjoy. Resentment can quickly build if one person feels everything should be experienced as a married couple while the other wants to continue seeing his or her friends for a movie, a round of golf or a night out.
Similarly, how each person feels about the other seeing a former boyfriend or girlfriend should be explored as well as how each feels about the other casually seeing someone of the opposite gender for lunch or a drink after work. Expecting a spouse to give up long-time friends and activities is usually not realistic. Discuss how you plan to get the most out of your time together and what is reasonable for spending time apart.
Conflict resolution. Arguments are inevitable. Knowing how each person resolves conflicts can prevent a new marriage from quickly being threatened. While dating, each person may strive to demonstrate best behavior. While actual observance of behavior under stress may provide the best answer, couples should discuss how they cope with anxious situations. Do you become physical or withdraw? Are you quick to anger and express rage to release tension? Discuss how you, as a couple, see yourselves resolving small issues such as differences in preferred home décor or leaving clothes scattered on the floor as well as how you might handle a truly stressful situation.
Religion. While it seems obvious that this topic would be raised while dating, a fuller discussion is often warranted. How large a role does religion play in your lives? If you come from different faiths, how will that affect raising a child? Will your spouse not sharing your religious beliefs be a source of tension? If one person attends church regularly and the other does not, how will that work after marriage?
Household tasks. How routine household chores will be handled is often worth a talk. Conflicts may arise if one spouse comes from a home where cleaners came in every week to perform basic tasks and the other spouse lived in a home where parents expected the children to share in the daily cooking and cleaning. Different expectations about home organization and cleanliness can quickly escalate tension that might have easily been avoided by a little conversation.
Each day of marriage is a learning experience. While you can’t predict all of the issues that will arise and potentially lead to conflict, you can expect to deal with most of the topics above at some point during the marriage. Rather than simply hoping or presuming your future spouse is in sync with your plans, some honest discussions will create a firmer foundation on which to build your relationship as you begin married life together.
If you have any questions about prenuptial agreements, contact the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free initial consultation.