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How to prepare for marriage and hopefully avoid a Divorce

Here’s a few scary divorce statistics from the US Census Bureau:

  • Almost 50% of marriages in the US end in Divorce.

  • In the US, 2,400 Divorces are finalized every day. Yes, you read that right, 2,400 per day for a whopping total of 876,000 per year!

  • The average length of those marriages that end in Divorce is 8 years

  • The rate of Divorce increases with each subsequent marriage

Yes, I know, those are disappointing statistics. However, the good news is the number of people getting Divorced has been steadily declining for the last few years. Over half of the couples that Divorce blame it on inability to communicate / arguing to much. The number one issue that couples argue about is money. While it’s unlikely you and your spouse will never argue about money, knowing some important things before your marriage may hopefully help you avoid future arguments later in the marriage and hopefully avoid a Divorce.

Many people think marriage is “just a piece of paper” as if it does not have any legal significance. That is entirely false. Marriage becomes a legal contract between you and your spouse. And I’m not referring to the vows you took to love and stay faithful. I’m referring to the many ways the actions of you or your spouse can hurt, or help, the other spouse.

First, you and your spouse should be open and honest from the jump about your financial positions. Have many discussions to determine if your views of money are compatible. For example, do you pay your bills in full every month and your future spouse pays only the minimum balance? This becomes relevant for legal reasons as discussed below.

Do you have a plan to save money each pay period but your future spouse wants to spend everything? Do you pay your bills on time each month but your future spouse feels I’ll pay them when I remember? Are you current on your bills but your future spouse says it’s okay to skip a month? Those are really important questions you two should discuss before getting married, or if already married, as soon as you can. While you may not be on the same page entirely, at least understanding each person’s views and plans for money may help avoid some arguments, headache and possibly heartache in the future.

Remember above when I mentioned the legal reasons why you need to have these discussions? That’s because in New Jersey, the default rule is that anything you accumulate during the marriage is marital property. Marital property includes assets (properties, pensions, stocks, bank accounts) as well as debts (credit card debt, tax debt, loan debt). Knowing this information at the outset is important because it allows both you and your spouse to understand the legal consequences of being married. Think about these things:

  • Your spouse is a stay-at-home parent and you work during the entire marriage. You accumulate a pension during your marriage that at the time a Divorce is filed is worth $50,000. You think, that’s all mine, I’m the only one that paid for that, my spouse isn’t touching a penny of that. Right? WRONG! During a Divorce, your spouse could be entitled to one-half of whatever amount accumulated during the marriage.

  • You started a business during the marriage. It started out small but quickly grew. At the time a Divorce Complaint is filed, it’s worth $250,000.00. It’s your business, only in your name, so you’re protected right? WRONG! It would require some experts to confirm the business’ worth but the bottom line is that you could have to pay your spouse a portion of your business’ value.

  • You purchased a rental property during the marriage. You and your spouse agreed that it was only yours and to “protect” yourself, you put it only in your name. That’s easy, it belongs only to you right? WRONG! During a Divorce, your spouse can make a claim against that property. If there is equity in the property, a Court could order you to either sell it and split the proceeds or buy your spouse out.

  • Your spouse accumulates $25,000 in credit card debt during the marriage. You knew your spouse had a spending problem, but you didn’t think it was that serious. Regardless, it didn’t concern you because it was “their debt” not yours. You didn’t spend it so it has no effect on you. Right? WRONG! During a Divorce, you could be held financially liable for one-half of that debt!

  • Your spouse is self-employed and generally ends up owing taxes. At the time a Divorce Complaint is filed, your spouse owes the IRS $15,000.00 for back taxes. You guys filed married filing separately to “protect” yourself from this so you’re in the clear, right? WRONG! During a Divorce, you could be held financially liable for one-half of that debt!

  • Your spouse took out a personal loan in the amount of $50,000.00. You didn’t spend any it so it has no effect on you. Right? WRONG! During a Divorce, you could be held financially liable for one-half of that debt!

As you can see, there are many legal consequences that arise after you’re married and what one spouse does can also bind the other spouse. Knowing this at the outset, you and your spouse should have consistent and open communications about your financial actions. It’s in both of your best interests to be up to date of not just your joint, but also your individual, financial positions.

If you’re considering getting Divorced, don’t make a move without downloading this free guide which lays out a roadmap for you to the NJ Divorce process. Learn what to do and when so you know what to expect!

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The contents of this blog entry are provided for informational purposes only. You should consult with an attorney to determine how the law applies to the facts of your particular case. Reading this blog entry does not create an attorney-client relationship with Kelly McGriff Law.


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