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A Case for Marriage Contracts

A Case for Marriage Contracts

A Case for Marriage Contracts – After surviving a financially abusive marriage and being a proponent of recovering from financial abuse, I am constantly trying to figure out how we can prevent financial abuse. Let’s get on the offensive instead of playing defense. I was recently reading another book on finance (as I am submerged in the world of finances) and came across a tidbit on prenuptial agreements.

I’ve never personally had one. I’m not even sure I know anyone who has, but the idea intrigued me.  

Looking back over history, marriages used to be arranged for financial reasons. They were business transactions more than romantic attachments. Frequently a woman came with a dowry. Her father arranged a good match so that she would be well taken care of. Or, going back even further, different families arranged marriages between their children. This ensured protection of their lands and fortunes.

I’m not arguing we should go back to arranged marriages, far from it. However, I do think we should think about the non-romantic side of these partnerships. In today’s world, we simply fall in love and dive into marriage so that we can have a partner to love and cherish us.

The truth is, marriages are still business arrangements, but we ignore that when we enter into them.  

Perhaps it is time to rethink how we approach things. What if we figured out a way to meld the romantic part with the financial part?

What I’m proposing is similar to a prenuptial agreement, but I believe there is too much stigma around that term. When we hear “prenup” the common mindset is to feel like someone expects the marriage to fail. They are selfishly trying to protect their own interests. They feel a bit cagey. I know I’d be leery if someone I was in love with dropped that bomb on me after proposing.

Let’s back it up a step. Any smart, financially savvy person should be interested in knowing their partners financial situation prior to making a serious commitment. Hopefully well before the thought of marriage even comes to mind.

Money is one of the most loaded topics in relationships. Why? Because we are afraid to talk about it.  

We should learn to talk about it early in the dating process. Then it might not be this big elephant in the room. Knowing up front what is and isn’t acceptable financially to each person is important. Talking about it is critical. I truly believe we could prevent a lot of financial abuse if we learned to talk about money up front. It might not mean we could totally avoid it, but I think a good number of money issues that could be red flags would come to light.

A Case for Marriage Contracts
A Case for Marriage Contracts

A number one flag would be if you’re dating a man and ask to talk about money but he refuses. If he won’t talk about his finances, I’d question why. If you are going to be in a committed relationship with the possibility of marriage, discuss finances. It might start simply with who’s going to pay for dinner. If he insists on fancy dining but refuses to pay for it or expects you to pay half, then the question is can he afford this type of lifestyle? 

If you begin the money conversation early on, you may be able to decipher his money style and determine if it’s a healthy one or not.

At some point, you’ll likely be cohabitating. Won’t you need to know how much he can afford? Don’t wait until you’re ready to move in together; talk about it early on. Have a conversation about how much he can afford and what percentage of his income he pays in housing. Some people live above their means and some people live below their means. Either way, this will impact you if you are in a serious relationship together. Figuring out ahead of time what his financial capacity is will help to ensure that you do not end up paying more than your fair share of the agreed cost.

I know this doesn’t sound romantic, but stay with me. If you start out openly talking about money, and you make significantly more than he does, you’ll be able to determine if he’s a gold digger looking for a sugar mama or if he’s just happy living a simpler lifestyle. Talking about your individual preferences in lifestyle will help you figure out if you’re a good financial match. Remember, the honeymoon phase fades in every relationship. The romantic first flame is rarely sustainable. So why rely on that to get you through the long term?

Instead, figure out early on if you are a financial match. Find out if the same economic lifestyle interests the both of you. Then, if you make it to the altar, you can have an agreement in place about handling finances.  

A Case for Marriage Contracts
A Case for Marriage Contracts

Take it one step further. You could also pre-agree on what happens in the event of either partners passing or the dissolution of the marriage. Again, it seems unromantic. But given the high statistical possibility of the marriage ending, isn’t it just smart to consider the financial side in advance?  

It seems to me that if a man is not going to abuse you financially, he wouldn’t mind coming to an agreement up front. Like entering a business partnership, you would have a partnership agreement. It should spell out the financial obligations of each partner during the term of the agreement as well as what happens financially should the partnership dissolve. Why should a marriage be any different? I believe it shouldn’t. 

Protect yourself up front. Go in with an open heart but also a smart head.  

Divorce statistically hits women harder than men. They are typically more likely to bear the financial responsibility for any children that come out of the marriage. If we could start with a contract that outlines what happens in the event the marriage ends, then we would reduce the financial nightmares that follow divorce.  

Women are paying the price all over the world. Women are the ones who struggle to support themselves and their children after divorce more often than men. If we required every marriage license to come with a financial contract, then a lot of this tragedy could be avoided. If a man is not willing to agree up front to taking on his financial responsibilities, then he’s not a good bet for a life partner.  

Think about it. Would you rather dive in, not knowing if the man you are marrying would pay child support or alimony? Particularly if you give up your career and earning potential to raise children? Or would you like to know that he will be legally obligated to uphold his financial end of the deal if things go south?  

I believe this is a way we could reduce not only financial abuse, but the number of divorced women and single moms living in poverty. Why should women suffer financially when the marriage ends? The romantic part is the hard part. The financial part is easily arranged as a business agreement beforehand. I argue it’s time to change how marriages start and put the financial obligations out front instead of ignoring them and hoping for the best.

Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (https://strongwomenthriving.com/), a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a new book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at hello@strongwomenthriving.com. Join our FB group https://www.facebook.com/groups/womensurivingfinancialabuse

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