So you've been married to the man (or woman) of your dreams for a year now, and people are always asking you "How's married life?" Which is, admittedly, preferable to their other favorite awkward question "So when are you going to have babies?" But it can still be an uncomfortable query if you're learning to navigate the sometimes murky waters of taking co-habitation to the next step and merging your entire lives. After all, what are you going to say? "Married life sucks, but thanks for asking." I think not.
Maybe your answer is always "no different from when we lived together." And by that you mean, literally, nothing has changed. Depending on how completely enmeshed your lives were before you walked down the aisle, that might be just fine. However, if by "no different," you mean that you haven't merged your finances, added each other as signatories and beneficiaries to important accounts, and sat down together to tackle any major life issues that need addressing as a married couple, it might be time to bite the bullet.
Time flies when you're a newlywed - literally. I don't know what it is about the first six months of marriage but it seems like you spend a year planning a wedding, the actual big day flies by and then suddenly POOF, it's been six whole months. Meanwhile, you guys are still trying to figure out what to do with all the lovely (and hideous) wedding gifts that live stacked in corners of your formerly tidy house.
When I got married, 10 years ago next week, I returned from my honeymoon to depart for my company's headquarters a few hours away - for almost two solid months! We were rebranding a publicly-traded corporation and I didn't have much choice in the matter although the timing royally sucked.
My point is that we didn't have time to deal with the mess that we'd left in our rush to go to Puerto Rico for our DIY Caribbean destination wedding, and we'd barely cleaned up the disaster left by our nightmare house sitter when I rolled out and left it all in my new husband's hands. As for Bill, I've gotta say that he did alright. The bills got paid (because he forwarded them to me), the dog got fed (because he could voice his own opinion on the matter), and the thank you notes kept being written and sent in a timely manner (because my husband opened the presents on the phone with me and we oohed and aahed together and then I wrote thank you notes in my hotel room in Connecticut at night). Nothing like a little teamwork, right?
I'm not being fair to my husband here - but I'm trying to make a point. Once you actually tie the knot, there are some things that change and some things that don't. When you were living together, somebody probably paid the bills and somebody probably wrote a check to the other person to cover his or her half. You paid your own credit card bills, student loans, etc., and you spent money on your family's birthday and Christmas gifts individually out of your own pockets. And you were responsible for pulling all your paperwork together for filing your income taxes by the deadline. Once you are married, a lot of those things change. Bill and I had to deal with that when we suddenly realized we'd been married almost a year!
I recently had a long talk with a girlfriend who has been married for more than a year but hasn't even begun merging her financial life with her husband's. She is not happy about it. It's something they fight about. And in the long run, it may kill their marriage if the man of her dreams turns not to have been honest about his debt and other things before they said I do. I don't mean she's going to dump him because he had an out-of-control credit card he neglected to mention. I mean he hasn't - or won't - tell her EXACTLY what he owes to whom so that they can work together for a solution.
What the bride understands, and the groom is trying desperately to avoid acknowledging (in this particular case), is that the expression "what's mine is yours, what's yours is mine" not only applies to your assets, but also your debts. Once you're legally married, you're assuming responsibility (and liability) for debts incurred thereafter by your spouse. But previous debt has its consequences too.
Let's be clear - if it turns out that one party has a huge loan outstanding from before they were married, that debt cannot result in the other party losing his or her home that he or she owned prior to marrying that person (if they owned it independently). However, when the time comes to buy a house, car or other large asset that requires financial paperwork and a credit check, BOTH OF YOU ARE SCREWED.
So if you've been married six months and you haven't tackled merging your paperwork lives, it's time to schedule that appointment with each other. Sit down and discuss all of the five following things:
Put all your assets and debts on one piece of paper together. Whether the picture is hopeful or terrifying, it's got to be done. How can you tackle the problem areas and get rid of them if you don't both know how much debt you're facing? Get out the paperwork, get copies of your own credit reports, and find the REAL bottom line. And deal with it. This is not a marriage destroyer if you face it head on as a team.
Create a combined list of your monthly expenses: rent/mortgage, utilities, cable, Internet, telephones, car payments, gas, parking, groceries, etc. And build some padding in too because there's car maintenance and unexpected home expenses that just come up. Some things are arbitrary - assess them.
3. Bank Accounts
While it isn't necessary to combine your bank accounts and work out of one checking account after you get married, you should have each other's names on ALL of your accounts and make absolutely sure you have changed the beneficiary information at your bank for those accounts. Odds are that if it's your first marriage, everything is set up to go to your parents if something happens to you. If you've been married before, not changing the beneficiaries could result in you giving lots of money to an ex who shouldn't be getting a penny. Many thousands of dollars are spent every year by spouses trying to untangle messes left behind in the wake of a death. Mourning is difficult enough without finding out that all the money the two of you have been stashing in an old savings account is going to go to the wrong person because you didn't do your paperwork properly.
4. Just in Case Papers
Write your wills. It doesn't have to be complicated - but it should be done properly and blessed by an attorney. In most places, all you have to do is have a copy on file for when the time comes, but in reality, it's a good idea to have an attorney do it all properly and then keep it on file with their firm. That way, should there be any question about the validity of the documents in an unfortunate situation, you'll have an attorney who met both of you and witnessed the signing to testify that the documents proffered are actually the LAST will and testament your spouse signed. I know this is something young couples tend to avoid until they have children (and sometimes, irresponsibly, they don't even do it then), but this is life - and death - and if you fail to do it the right way, you'll probably end up in probate and unable to get to some of your mutual assets for a long time. Also, if you've never discussed organ donation or how you feel about life support, it's a good idea to tackle those uplifting topics too. Do it once and it's done. Until you have kids.
Not everything financial is bad - some brides and grooms enter marriage with trust funds, investment accounts and other significant assets. Unless you have a prenuptial agreement that excludes the new spouse from any benefit of these things, he or she should know what is there - even if they can't access it. Beneficiary names MUST be changed or these assets will revert to the family of the departed, or whomever their prior designee was on the paperwork. You'll spend a fortunate unf*cking something that could have been so simple.
My friend is at her breaking point because her husband won't deal with money matters with her. While she doesn't think he's up to anything nefarious, she's never actually seen a paystub. They filed taxes separately. He simply won't discuss money matters - ever - and is content to ignore the problem. Forever, if possible.
But we all know that that debt catches up eventually. Whether it's the tax man, your university, or unpaid parking tickets from your very first job, someday when you're trying to get mortgage or other financing, these ugly little skeletons will come creeping out of the closet, likely all at one time. And it takes time to clean up the messes, even if you go at it with the best of intentions. Believe me, creditors would far rather hear from you asking how you can pay something off than chase you trying to collect.
Money is one of the top causes of divorce in this nation. Couples who face financial problems together will survive them and come out stronger in the end. Those who ignore them will sink together unless somebody steps up to the plate and addresses the situation.
Don't let the stupid stuff bog you down and ruin your marriage.
Until next time, happy wedding planning from Sandy Malone Weddings & Events!