We often discuss issues that arise when there is marital discord. But what about the issues that should be considered before you get married?

Marriage is a social and financial contract for which the law provides certain benefits and burdens. Before you make such a serious commitment to another person, you should (minimally) have the following 5 pieces of information about your future spouse.

  1. Income – Do you know how much she makes? Once you are married, any money that is earned is presumed to be marital property. It is no longer “my paycheck” but “our paycheck.” If you are going to build a life together, then you will need to know how much money there is.
  2. Taxes – Have you seen her income tax returns? Income tax returns reveal a lot of information, such as the existence of children, spousal support obligations, investments or retirement accounts, and if taxes are owed. Unpaid taxes can be a significant financial headache.
  3. Debts –Before you exchange rings, you should exchange credit reports. If your future spouse has significant debts, are you prepared to help pay those debts off or suffer the consequences if the debts are not satisfied?
  4. Support Obligations – Does she have any support obligations to children or a former spouse? If so, are those obligations paid timely? If there are support obligations, you must be comfortable with the fact that part of your marital resources may used to satisfy those obligations.
  5. Future Support Obligations – What future obligations does she have to her children? Children become more expensive the older they get (e.g. extracurricular activities and college expenses). If your future spouse has an obligation to pay for her child’s college expenses, will there be enough marital resources for the two of you to have (and support) children of your own?

While the importance of discussing these topics may seem like a no-brainer to many of you, you would be surprised at the number of couples who do not talk about these issues. I have represented many clients that do not know (and never knew) basic financial information about the other spouse. Those clients are often the recipient of an unhappy surprise, such as discovering that there is a lien on their marital home because the other spouse owed back taxes, or that the other spouse had so much debt that she liquidated retirement accounts to pay off the debts.

I cannot think of a topic less romantic than taxes and debts. However, you must remember that if a marriage is “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,” it will be necessary to have open and honest conversations about finances. If your future spouse is reluctant or refuses to share any of this information with you, you should consider that to be a warning flag and you should re-evaluate whether you want to move forward with making a lifetime commitment to that person.

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