5 Tips to Start a Marriage Off Right, from a Divorce Lawyer

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I spoke with Somerset County, NJ family law attorney KATHERINE K. WAGNER, ESQ. on this topic. Ms. Wagner says she is no marriage expert but that she can tell us what often ends marriages, according to her clients.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to use these tips to avoid the situations that frequently lead to divorce.

1.  BE HONEST ABOUT FINANCES.

There are a number of ways this issue can and does trip up newlyweds.  Money is an unnecessary source of stress for married couples, and frequently money problems or disagreements about money are a major contributor to divorce. If couples are upfront about income, expenses, and debt, as well as their spending priorities, they will avoid the kind of conflict that ends many marriages.

A. INCOME

What do you earn now?  What are your expectations for the future? Are you happy in your current job, and if you want to change jobs, will that require more training or education?

These are questions a couple needs to ask and keep asking so that there are no unpleasant surprises. No one wants to wake up one morning to find their spouse still in their bathrobe sitting at the kitchen counter, informing you that they quit their job. Similarly, no one wants to live with someone who is stressed out and irritable because they hate their current job and feel they can’t make a change.  Couples need to make their jobs and income an ongoing conversation.

B. EXPENSES

Where to live, whether to rent or buy, what sort of car to drive, how often to eat out… these are all things couples should discuss. Couples also need to determine whether they will pool all of their resources into one bank account, or keep separate accounts and contribute to a joint account for joint expenses, or other…?

There is no “right” way to allocate funds or to pay expenses. Whatever amount a couple agrees to spend, within their means, and however they agree to organize their finances will be right for them.

C. DEBT

So often marriages crumble under the weight of untenable credit card debt or student loan debt. Whether couples bring debt to the marriage, or they incur debt together, anxiety caused by insurmountable debt can ruin a relationship.

Couples also need to be upfront about whether they have ever filed BANKRUPTCY – this affects creditworthiness and if the couple wants to buy a major asset together like a house or car, it can be an issue.

Be honest with one another and upfront about debt, and then please agree to live within your means. Of course, splurge once in a while but stay within your budget.  Use debt wisely to build your creditworthiness and you both will be happier in the long run.

2. SHARE HOPES, DREAMS, GOALS, AND FEARS.

Again, this should be an ongoing conversation. How many divorcing couples are thinking to themselves… I don’t recognize my spouse – he or she is not the person I married!

People grow and certainly will change over the years – communicating is the only way a couple can grow together.

3. TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF.

This means staying healthy, getting enough rest, being social, and enjoying your hobbies. It also means taking some time for yourself when you need it. Taking care of yourself means you are bringing the best person you can to your marriage.

Issues like alcohol or substance abuse can ruin a marriage. Similarly, if you don’t attend to your individual mental, emotional, and physical health, that can lead to problems that place a huge burden on your spouse.

4. APPRECIATE EACH OTHER.

What does this mean? Divorcing spouses often complain that they don’t feel appreciated. Here are some typical ways couples can avoid that:

  • Support each other
  • Thank each other
  • Confide in each other
  • Stay adventurous and romantic
  • Be gentle with one another (things won’t always go smoothly! Plan to address problems together, as a team).

5. GET A PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT.

Last, working with an attorney to draft a PRE-NUPTIAL AGREEMENT will start many of the conversations newlyweds need to have. This is likely the last thing a young couple in love wants to think about, however, a prenuptial agreement will protect premarital assets and ensure that should the marriage end, joint assets and debts can be dealt with in an orderly fashion and not add to an already stressful situation.

About the Author

Veronica Baxter works as a legal assistant in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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