I remember sitting in my Family Law class in law school and listening to the professor discussing the distinction between marital property (property acquired during the marriage) and pre-marital property (property acquired by parties individually prior to any marriage). I found myself questioning how many people actually contemplate their legal rights while in the throes of love. My answer, you may ask, after over a decade of work in the divorce arena? Not many. There are a few reasons why. Reason number one: most people spend more time planning their wedding than contemplating the day-to-day mechanics of marriage (ya know, the boring stuff) and reason number two: Shakespeare was right when in Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2 he wrote, “First, Let’s Kill all the Lawyers.” But I digress.
The reality is that more and more of the millennial generation is waiting longer to get married. And, when millennials do get married, they are more likely to have both assets and debt. The below list of things to consider before you say “I Do” are derived from over a decade of being a matrimonial attorney. Every so often I say “my goodness, I have seen everything”– and then another client comes in and tells me a story that is even more unbelievable than the last. My main point, above all else, is to give your full time, attention and contemplation to the mechanics of marriage before you spend even a second lamenting about what will be served at your Viennese hour (post COVID-19, of course). And, if you’re questioning just what exactly a Viennese hour is, you’re not from Long Island.
- Discuss your respective finances.
Buckle up friends! Finances matter. You should have a clear understanding of your prospective spouse’s debt (ahem, student loans and pesky credit card debt). It is not unreasonable to ask about your prospective spouse’s credit score. Thinking of buying a house together? Your spouse’s credit card score will determine if financing can be secured.
Finances are even more important when you are marrying someone that has been married before. Consider that person’s payment of maintenance or child support and do not be afraid to ask about how that will affect your new household’s budget. Each party should be fully aware of what it costs to run your joint household, and what each party will take from the income earned during the marriage to pay down debt from before the marriage. These discussions matter and I am truly shocked at the number of times a person has sat across from me and disclosed that he or she was not aware of the depth of their spouse’s debt or lack of credit.
- Discuss your spending habits.
If you are a spender and your spouse is a saver, these discussions must occur prior to walking down the aisle. It is suggested that you consider your long-term financial goals and determine what your five (5) and ten (10) year plans are. It might even be worth sitting down with a certified financial planner to consider how to move forward together to meet your financial goals. Again, it is important to consider how a person’s spending habits can affect the dynamics of a relationship, especially if the spender will also leave the work force to raise a child or children, which leads me to my next item.
- Discuss children and raising a family.
I am consistently amazed at young people that seek out an uncontested divorce when they realize that a spouse is not on the same page with respect to starting a family. Whether a person wants to become a parent is a monumental and life-altering decision that should occur before rings are exchanged in my humble opinion, or IMHO for all you millennials. One should also consider infertility, and the possibilities of surrogacy or adoption. These hard but necessary discussions will put you and your partner on the same page if, and when, you are faced with any of these circumstances.
- Consider a Pre-Nuptial Agreement.
A Pre-Nuptial Agreement is a perfect avenue to discuss finances, spending, and children. It is also an incredible opportunity for individuals to exchange financial data and information in order to reach an agreement that meets their future financial goals and provides security in the event that the relationship deteriorates. A Pre-Nuptial Agreement does not need to be a scary circumstance where one person seeks a strategic advantage over the other. With the assistance of a lawyer, it can be an amicable way for spouses to develop a joint plan for the most important aspects of their life together.
Marissa Pullano focuses her practice on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including contested proceedings regarding the equitable distribution of substantial real property and assets, child support and spousal maintenance, paternity, custody and access, and order modification and enforcement. She also has experience drafting prenuptial, postnuptial and separation agreements. Marissa believes that all clients deserve significant attention as they navigate the court system. She strives to achieve resolutions that minimize conflict, but acts as a zealous advocate on behalf of her clients in the courtroom when litigation cannot be avoided. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (516) 393-8297.