Dear Rosie & Sherry,
You have a great advice column and although I have been using it for a short time, I am already hooked.
I am a 49-year-old divorced professional man, with shared custody of a 15-year-old daughter. I was married for 15 years, and I have been dating for the last three years after my divorce. Although my ex is remarried and we are still civil to each other for the sake of our daughter, the divorce has left me in financial shambles.
I have slowly recovered financially, but still not to the point of where I like to be. I have paid for my all my dates' dinners, entertainment, etc. However, knowing how vulnerable someone can be financially during a marriage, I would want a prenuptial agreement if I marry again. At this age in life, both of us would have acquired a certain amount of wealth, some of which we want to keep for our children as well as our own security. While it may sound selfish, I am sure the woman would want to protect her assets also. I could not recover from another financial disaster at this stage in life.
When I was married and both of us were working, everything my wife earned was "hers," but everything I earned was "ours." I have heard this again and again from friends and colleagues. While prenup agreements may take the romance out of a relationship, and some may think I am already thinking negative, I have to be practical also.
What are your thoughts?
When younger adults decide to marry, they're usually not that concerned about differences in their respective incomes. Many times, they're starting life together with few assets, and they expect to each contribute their best efforts to build a life together.
They understand that their contributions involve more than the salaries and benefits they earn from work outside their home. The responsibilities of marriage also entail managing the finances, running a home, raising a family, participating in the community, and coordinating leisure time and a social life.
Even the most egalitarian couple understands that none of these responsibilities can be evenly divided so that each partner performs exactly one half of each task. Dividing everything down the middle is an inefficient way to run a marriage; instead, couples are better off apportioning marital responsibilities according to each partner's talents and strengths.
In their book, The Case For Marriage - Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially, sociologists Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher explain that "the marriage contract gives partners the security they need to specialize and invest in each other over the long haul. Each spouse can develop some skills and neglect others, because each can count on the other to take responsibility for some of the work involved in making a home and a living."
Waite and Gallagher note that "Specialization increases productivity for married partners just as it does for any other economic partnership. Singles must accomplish all of life's tasks themselves. But in a marriage, each partner can choose from among the things that have to be done, according to what he or she especially likes or does especially well. By specializing, husbands and wives can each master a smaller number of tasks, producing more as a team than either one could produce alone."
One spouse may be a great money manager, the other a great cook; one earns a bigger salary but the other keeps their cars, home, and appliances in good running order.
While a younger couple is often less concerned about financial equality, older adults are more likely to be troubled by a significant difference in the assets each brings into the marriage and the income each partner will contribute to the marital enterprise. One reason for this is that when two people who have independently built their lives decide to marry, they don't have the same expectation of "shared enterprise" as do a husband and wife who plan to build their careers, financial well-being and positions in the community -- at the same time they are building an emotionally close relationship and a family.
Understanding this dynamic, we nevertheless believe that the best way for individuals, who marry after they have developed their own careers and financial resources, is to view their marriage as a shared enterprise in which each partner dedicates his or her best efforts to building a mutually satisfying life together. A shared enterprise doesn't mean that assets acquired before marriage are put in joint names (a qualified family lawyer can advise you about the many ways you can deal with those assets). It means that both partners recognize that their salaries and investment income may not be the same because their careers and life histories are different, but that the energies each expects to devote to the marriage involve far more than this economic contribution.
Couples also have to address their attitudes about how much of their incomes to save; using credit cards and paying those bills; how to allocate their income between day-to-day expenses, vacations, large purchases; what financial decisions they will share and what decisions each will make independently; how to handle debt, and the like. Financial issues are a source of disagreement in many marriages, but most couples are able to agree upon enough broad parameters to enable them to live in "financial harmony."
We believe it is a good idea for couples -- of any age -- who are thinking about marriage to discuss their attitudes about finances, and come to an agreement about as many parameters as possible, before they decide to build a life together.
Wishing you all the best,
Rosie & Sherry