Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When she makes more

I got three questions yesterday from a woman who wanted my opinion on her friend's pre-marital financial situation. The questions paralleled yesterday's post about income inequity in relationships (i.e., who makes more and more importantly, who cares).

Long story short, in a couple that plans to get married soon the woman makes far more than the man. They have a joint checking account and the lower-earning man wants to use some of the money from that account toward starting a business (or as the questioner put it, for his "business schemes).

I don't know much about what kind of business he plans to do or exactly how much of an income disparity we're talking about, so I have to go on what I'm told is a very big income gap between the two. There are three questions here, and I'm answering them separately:
Do you beleive in pre nup/financial agreements between couples who are getting married? Especially if it is a significant difference in salaries?

I don't think your current financial situation matters to whether or not you get a prenup; I believe everyone should seriously think about having one.

Remember that prenuptial agreements aren't just about where you are before you get married. They're legal documents that are supposed to be structured to protect people's assets and interests in the (hopefully unlikely) event of a divorce. Everyone who gets married knows that divorce is a possibility, though most people, rightfully, don't want to focus on that.

A difference in salaries as an engaged couple might make someone more likely to want one, but that doesn't mean folks of the same income levels shouldn't also consider one.

If there is money left after monthly expenses in the joint account, should one partner use the leftover for personal reasons I.e starting your own business?

That should be a decision made by both partners. If the money is coming from funds that have been jointly saved, that technically -- and probably legally -- would give both people equity in whatever business venture was being started. In other words, if I take money from OUR joint account, I'm automatically making YOU an investor in whatever business I start.

So the other party should be as active in investigating and doing any vetting any business opportunities and if they're not comfortable, the business plan needs to be tweaked or scrapped.

What is a fair percentage for couples to put in joint account? If one spouse makes more should they put more in joint account? Should a percentage of individual bonuses be put in the joint account?

I think contributing to joint accounts on a percentage basis is a good idea because it makes both partners responsible at the same level of their contributions, regardless of income. If a couple were to contribute a particular dollar amount of their salaries, the partner making more money would obviously be able to contribute that more easily -- and perhaps at a smaller percentage of his or her salary -- than the partner with the lower income. But if both agree to save, say, 30 percent, both know that they're giving at the same level, though the partner with the higher income will be contributing more on a dollar basis.

But more important than how much is how the decision gets made. This is something to be talked about and agreed to together. If a couple can come to an amicable solution together about how much each person contributes to expenses, savings, investments and other goals, that's a good start for them.

I sincerely hope these answers reach the couple they're intended for and that they make the commitment to get some financial counseling before they leap into marriage. Unfortunately, the only thing that breaks up marriages more than money is infidelity, so making sure there's a solid commitment in romance and in finance is key to making it last.

Good luck in love.

1 comment:

laughing808 said...

excellent post and response the questions......I'm not that partial to pre-nups but I agree that in some cases it's best to have one.