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Joint Checking AccountIn modern partnerships, money is at least as difficult a subject to talk about as sex, and maybe more difficult. Personal finances can be closely associated with security, identity and trust. The joint checking account used to be a foregone conclusion for newlyweds. What was once a no-brainer for new couples is now a talking point for how people want to organize their relationship. How do couples define the rules of finance within their marriage to reflect their values and support growth? And maybe, someday, kids?

Making the Transition

Nowadays, the question of whether or when to combine finances sneaks up on the many couples who have been living together for months and sometimes years before they decide to get married. Up until the "I do's," they may have bumped along merrily with their separate debit accounts, splitting up the expenses and going in together on food, furnishings and entertainment. Many couples see no reason to upset the status quo: What is not broken does not need fixing. If a couple continues to rent the same apartment and live essentially the same life after marriage, there is not much impetus to change. The need for a shift in gears becomes a hotter topic once a couple decides to make a big change, like buy a house. Or, again, add a kid or two.

And Baby Makes Three Accounts

One solution for people who feel strongly about keeping their finances at least somewhat separate is the third checking account. The idea is that each partner maintains his or her own account for individual purchases and for contributing to a share of the expenses. The third account is shared and is designated specifically for child-related expenses. The account addresses expenses such as:

  • Clothing
  • Health care
  • Education

People of more traditional habits may wonder why a couple would bother with what seems like a complicated arrangement. The answers may be equally complex. Independence and freedom from judgment are two factors. A distrust of their parents' way of managing things may be another. In decades past, women were often left economically vulnerable when the marriage failed, or the husband died, and they found they had little control over the money. Plus, partners of both sexes may be wary of assuming the burden of someone else's debt.

Separate but Equal **

Distinct finances within a marriage work best when partners earn about the same amount of money. Author Jessica Grose, in an article for Slate magazine, stated, "In the event of a large earning disparity, you have to either combine resources for a time or commit to the lifestyle of the poorer partner." A recent study indicated that couples who earn a combined income of less than $50,000 and who have kids are more likely to fight over money when they keep it separate. These findings are supported as well by research out of Bowling Green University that states that young couples with children who kept their finances separate had a greater risk of divorce.

Longevity Matters

In the interviews that Grose conducted, even dedicated separatists acknowledge that aging together poses challenges to keeping things absolutely divided. Even without children, a life together may eventually involve handling someone else's affairs. In an extreme or dire medical situation, a partner may need access to financial information and resources. Likewise, the question of assisted living or nursing care may be better managed through a joint approach to money.

Ongoing Conversation

The division of marital wealth has been a long-standing consideration in divorce courts across the country. Different states handle the issue in a number of ways, from community property laws to the murkier ins and outs of equitable division of assets. Ironically, many couples may not have a nitty-gritty discussion about money until they are divvying it up with the lawyers. While some traditionalists scoff at the attempt to manage marital finances from separate camps, the effort indicates a willingness to engage with the subject while the marriage is alive and well.

Category: Wedding Planning

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