Money and Divorce: Which Problem comes First? Do money problems cause divorce or does divorce cause money problems?

Why is money so often cited as a primary reason for divorce? Is it the actual cause of divorce, or does it become an issue when couples decide to split?

I wish I could state unequivocally which it is, but what I can do is speak to the causes behind why couples argue and often split over money issues.

Many couples come from different backgrounds in terms of how they view and value money. Where one person in a relationship might feel like money should be used to buy things today that they believe enhances their life experiences, the other person might feel like money should be primarily used for basic life needs, with the rest, saved for the future.

To this day I find it shocking that so many couples get married without discussing not only their current financial situation, but how they think and feel about the purpose money plays in their lives. Where do they stand on debt? How about the importance of saving and investing. What about having children; public or private school? Pay for college? Buy them a car at 16? Should your children work and if so at what age?

So often when couples come to me for financial planning, it is clear that one person cares more about spending money on furniture, cars, kids or vacations. The other wants to live more modestly and save and invest. Typically, I find one person deferring to the one with the stronger, more dominant personality, instead of that couple finding a happy medium between their divergent views over the use of the family income. When compromise isn’t reached, couples create a hotbed for future grudges and blame.

Many couples don’t share in money decisions, but assign the one person who is more suitable or interested in money to make financial plans. Again, this seems like it works, during good financial times, but when the economy suffers, and jobs are cut back or lost, money suddenly becomes a point of contention for the couple. It’s just too easy to blame the person who manages the family finances for the current state of affairs.

What often goes unspoken is the burden of responsibility felt by the one person assigned to handle the money. Sometimes this is the one who earns the most, whereas other times it is the stay at home spouse who runs the household. I am regularly astounded at the lack of knowledge the not-financially involved spouse has around finances. They can’t answer the following questions:  How much does your spouse earn? How much life insurance do you have on each other? How much of your income is your family saving for retirement?

Alternatively, some couples simply keep their money separate and don’t act like a team around the family finances. Although many claim this works just fine for them, how can a couple really be on board with their future current plans and future dreams when they are in the dark about each other’s money behavior. I tend to think that couples choose this as a default to doing the hard work necessary to compromise and come together around money issues.

People decide to divorce for so many reasons from infidelity to abuse and addiction issues, from growing apart to not growing at all. Occasionally financial issues are at the center of the marital difficulties, but often money has not been a problem to couples in the past.  But mark my words, regardless of the cause of the decision to divorce, once a couple moves forward with divorce, money becomes one the biggest areas of contention.

After all, what is divorce really, but a legal separation of all that was shared in marriage, be it real estate, savings and investments, and sadly, children. Suddenly couples who in their past relationship openly shared money regardless of who earned what, now it’s mine is mine and some of yours is mine, too.

All sorts of financial wreckage is possible, as the reality of taking one family and their income and assets and splitting it between two households.  Generally there is simply never enough money to go around, and often both people in the marriage are basically starting over financially.

I can’t state that money is one of the top causes of divorce, but I can say without a doubt that divorce causes all sorts of money problems and that any financial problems that were quietly hidden during a marriage, come flying into focus when divorce happens.

For me, the end of a marriage is so sad on its own. Two people who at some point in the past loved each other enough to want to spend the rest of their lives together, have come to a point where they can’t work out their differences; that alone is simply tragic. But I find it ironic that much of that is lost in the process of divorce, and the ever powerful money, becomes the argument.

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