More than half of all couples go into their partnerships with debt, and 40 percent say that this financial burden ends up having a negative impact on their relationships, according to a new Couples & Money study by Fidelity. Not only do couples disagree on whose responsibility the debt is — 49 percent contradict one another as to exactly who’s on the hook — couples who are concerned about paying down debt are also more likely to suffer from poor communication, fighting and difficulty having conversations about money.
And those things portend more trouble. According to a study from Utah State University, fighting about finances is a top predictor of divorce, with couples who fight frequently being 30 percent more likely to divorce than those who rarely argue. Thankfully, the next time you feel a quarrel brewing, you don’t have to give in to temptation, and you may even be able to stop your fight — along with your debt— in its tracks.
Debts in divorce are treated similar to assets. Even if it is not your debt but your spouse’s debt, a divorce court can order you to be responsible for the debt. For example, if your spouse takes out a credit card in her name and makes purchases, these debts could become marital debts if the trial court determines the debts for employed for the benefit of the marriage.
Some of the most difficult divorces to settle are those involving cases where the parties are “underwater” financially.
The NBC article includes several helpful notes on efforts to save your marriage from financial strain:
- Understand why money is so stressful. “When you can’t communicate about money, then neither party is going to recognize when they’re living beyond their means, or when you need to cut back on your expenses.”
- Check your egos at the door: “Couples with money problems who want to save their relationship should immediately try to get over any social embarrassment they may feel when they scale back their lifestyle.”
- Get everything out on the table. “Once you figure out exactly what’s owed and to whom, you and your partner can sit down and talk about which method you’ll use to pay down your debt.”
- Seek professional help. ““A financial planner can help you understand how you can best use your assets to help you achieve the goals you set out with. A couples counselor can help reveal things you didn’t know about your relationship with money, and your relationship with one another.”
- Consider a post-nup. “If you’ve already walked down the aisle and money pressures are threatening the relationship, you can look into a post-nuptial agreement that can set all the same ground rules after the fact.”