Editor’s note: This is part four of a six-part series on the great reevaluation business owners and executives are experiencing this year.
As the BBC reported – and we all experienced – COVID-19-related lockdowns necessitated close, constant contact with families and partners.
How did that go?
By some accounts, divorce and breakups are on the rise. But marriages are booming too, possibly because they were deferred until health restrictions eased. Either way, folks had a lot of time to think about – and try out – what a long future, growing old together could be like. That includes getting on the same page regarding financial priorities, how to cover major expenses and handling debt.
Finances are a common source of spousal conflict. Here are tips to head off intense disagreements about money, whether you’re starting out, nurturing a new relationship or ending a marriage.
If you’re just starting out together
- Be honest: Openly discuss your financial situation with your partner, including how you think and feel about money. How much you earn and how much you owe (e.g., through credit card, student loan or other debt) shouldn’t be a secret. If either partner has premarital assets, it can be uncomfortable to discuss. However, a prenuptial agreement could be helpful since it makes financial obligations and expectations clear from the very beginning.
- Create a cash flow statement: Outline all of your income sources and expenses and ask your partner to do the same. Track both of your spending for a month or two, so the statements are based on real spending habits, not guesses. This exercise helps you identify and discuss spending patterns upfront, instead of being surprised or upset about them later.
- Pick a management approach: Will you maintain separate bank accounts or share all of your assets? Early on, decide how you plan to manage day-to-day finances (e.g., paying the bills) and longer-term financial decision-making like investing. In addition, make sure you understand the impact of living in community property states versus common law states.
- Talk about your life together: Discuss what you want from life overall, not just right now. If you’re imagining a future with kids, how many? What type of schools do you want them to attend? And what will family vacations look like? Share your hopes and dreams, all the way through a fulfilling retirement. If you understand what’s important to your partner and vice versa, you can set common financial goals and work toward them together.
If you’re nurturing a new relationship
If you’re entering a second marriage, all of the advice above holds true – but it can be more complicated. Blended families bring more to the table: assets, debts and potentially children (and child support). If finances factored into a previous divorce, partners may have strong attitudes about spending habits or money management, too.
Have the hard conversations. You may need to:
- Create pre- and post-nuptial agreements to clarify how property and other assets would be divided, should this relationship end in divorce.
- Review beneficiary designations to ensure your assets and estate plans align with your current relationships (i.e., and don't go to a former spouse or family member).
- Update your will, power of attorney, healthcare directives and other legal documentation, too.
- Create a revocable trust to direct who receives your assets if you pass away. A revocable living trust can be changed while you’re alive. When you pass, your assets avoid probate and are not a matter of public record.
Depending on your financial situation(s), advanced planning strategies are available to minimize conflict and stress. For example, trust products can establish and lock-in beneficiaries, even if you pass away first. And life estate plans can secure property rights to benefit both the surviving spouse and your heirs.
If you’re ending a marriage
Separating your financial relationship from another person is difficult and emotional work. To the extent that you can, try to plan for a smooth transition. Professional mediators and certified divorce financial analysts can help walk both parties through the process and the impact on their finances.
Before you separate:
- Gather, organize and value the net worth of your assets and liabilities, and educate yourself on how assets are divided between divorced couples in your state. Many states view retirement savings as “community property,” even if the funds are held in an account under only one spouse’s name. If you co-own a business or own stock options, those factor in, too.
- Estimate your immediate financial needs, such as separate residences, attorney fees, court costs and other living expenses. Some people defer retirement savings to make financial ends meet in a new, single-income (but possibly two-household) world. Work with a financial advisor to understand how a new budget could affect your retirement plans.
- Open separate accounts. If you don’t have credit history outside the marriage, start building independent financial history right away. Freeze or monitor shared accounts until the end of the divorce.
- Negotiate for your share of the marital assets with an impartial third party, such as a mediator or certified divorce financial analyst. Resist the urge to “just be done with it” and advocate for what is legally yours. A CPA can help you evaluate the potential tax consequences, both near- and long-term, of dividing marital assets.
After the divorce:
- Update your tax withholding right away for both paychecks and retirement distributions. Review your tax situation with a professional to determine the best way to file taxes the year of the divorce, and whether you’ll need to make estimated payments for alimony or child support moving forward.
- Name a new executor for your will if it was your former spouse. Update successor trustees, powers of attorney and beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement accounts, too.
How we can help
Financial conversations are difficult but necessary. The results could affect future generations.
That’s why it helps to work with a partner for your entire financial life. Our advisors can bridge the gaps between your financial, business and personal priorities. Find out how on our private client services web page.
About our series
Have you been thinking changing your life? You are not alone. Millions of other Americans are also weighing whether or not to change their future in what has been called “the great reevaluation.” From careers to finances and to families, our team provides guidance to help you make that decision. Learn more on and see other parts of our series on our Great Reevaluation series web page.