Wednesday, June 16, 2010
When Fights Over Money Ruin Marriages
Much has been written about how tough economic times have forced couples to postpone divorces. They just can't afford it. Legal costs and accountant fees grow as a union dissolves and a two-income household lives cheaper than a two-household pair of singles. As the economy improves, we will probably see divorce rates creep up. But even if money woes are keeping couples together, financial disputes remain the root cause of irreconcilable differences
Here are seven common financial issues that can lead to divorce:
More women are entering marriage with assets of their own and many are earning more than their spouses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in three married women out-earns her husband. That amount expands to more than half if they earn $55,000 or more. Men can feel threatened by not having their traditional bragging rights as breadwinners. For women, it means they have their own money to protect from the irresponsible actions of a mate. With more at-stake, women can't afford to be deferential to their mate the way past generations were.
Utah State University professor Jeffrey Dew authored a widely cited study that concluded that couples who argue about finances at least once a week are 30% more likely to divorce than those who only vent occasionally about money issues. Couples with no assets were 70% more likely to divorce compared to couples with assets of $10,000. Cutting into the ability to build assets is America's longstanding addiction to credit cards, but there may be cause for optimism. Having amassed a record-setting $988 billion in revolving debt in 2008, Americans chipped away at nearly $90 billion of it last year, according to the Federal Reserve. Fewer credit cards and less debt should mean increased savings, more assets and potentially happier couples.
As part of a survey last year, Fidelity Investments found that less than half of couples make day-to-day financial decisions together on issues such as budgeting and paying bills (45%). In many couples, one person always pays monthly bills early while the other might procrastinate until the due date and beyond. Cutting checks can be even more stressful when an unnecessary shopping spree blows the monthly budget or a mate doesn't take kindly to the premium cable channels or costly text messages their better half piles into the mix.
While one half of a relationship may be thrifty, dedicated to building savings and committed to a retirement plan, the other may be more carefree, with a "live for today, you can't take it with you" outlook.
One can assume that investment decisions are increasingly dividing couples if both partners are financially savvy. Risk tolerance may be incompatible, with goals out-of-synch.
Apple or go long may be as divisive a debate as how often a mother-in-law should visit. Looking over an investment portfolio or 401(k) plan, one spouse may want to explore emerging market funds, while the other dismisses anything but safe domestic large caps and bonds. Can a quant guy find true happiness with a fundamental-analysis kind of gal?
There's no shortage of men and women who value money more than love and companionship. You may be quite content to "live on love" and weather financial situations "for better or worse." But she may feel entitled to a McMansion in a tony suburb and a Mercedes in which to drive your kids to private school. Trouble will be brewing along with her high-priced lattes.
Financial infidelity is a newly coined term that describes situations in which a spouse hides cash or credit from his mate. It may seem a good idea to have a secret credit card or bank account that you can dip into, but your partner will probably take great offense at the covert action. Beyond the financial dishonesty on display, such hidden reserves may be a warning sign of even bigger transgressions -- keeping a slush fund to pay for strip club tabs or supporting a mistress on the sly.