The most common topic people discuss before marriage addresses the question: Will we have children together? This often includes agreeing on a number of children as a goal. Blog 2 in this Marriage Series addresses this subject. However, another important discussion to have before marriage is about money, debt and property.
The first reason for having this discussion is because, in many states, there are laws that apply to marriage that affect various choices available to the parties. Many people marrying do not know what those laws are. It is important to have a least basic understanding of these laws.
Some states are community property states, which means that a marriage creates a legal entity, whereby most if not all property and debt accrued after marriag, becomes marital (community) property. In some states, property owned before marriage is sometime marital and sometimes individual property. Because of this complicated legal treatment, people intending to marry might benefit from a discussion (even consulting with an attorney) about how they each handle property and debt already owned and to be owned in the future. There might be legal ways to exclude money, property and debt by signing a Premarital Agreement, but even those can be questioned or even reversed later in the marriage, particularly if there is a divorce. Although it might not seem very romantic, learning about the marital laws in your state can prevent surprises later and might even enlighten you regarding steps you can take prior to marriage that can enhance the marriage.
A second reason for having this discussion is simply to understand any differences between spouses that might become trigger points for conflict in the future. If one spouse is a risk-taker, for example, and the other spouse is much more conservative about financial matters, advanced discussions to make rules and agreements might prevent that difference from escalating to challenging disputes later. A general rule might be that before either spouse makes any financial decision (perhaps over a particular dollar amount), they have a discussion to identify disagreements and prevent those disagreements from growing into conflicts that threaten the quality of the marriage.
Both spouses should understand each other’s financial situation and their whole financial picture, before marriage and at all times during the marriage. In this way, they can plan, understand changes and trust one another. Money matters have both objective and subjective meaning to people, and a thorough discussion before marrying can help pave the way for a smooth and successful marriage.