Planning for a wedding? Also plan your individual fiscal future

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wedding that ended in divorceOver the past year, five of my great friends have gotten divorced, all after having one or more children. For some, it was a long and inevitable-seeming journey filled with separation and void of passion. For others, it was sudden and awful. In every case, their financial lives are largely in shambles, though several of them were working at least part-time when the event occurred.

In every case, we look back on their torn finances and wonder, what could I have done differently?

If you're getting married, I wouldn't suggest planning for an inevitable divorce, or re-examining your choice of mate. You're in love, it's likely you're blind to those possibilities now, and I totally get that. But what can you do to plan intelligently for your individual financial future (even if you stay together until you're 101)? Here are a couple of things I, too, would do differently:
  • Think deeply about your wedding investment. I remember the year I got married; I'd just been to a few fabulous fêtes celebrating the nuptials of friends and I wanted, more than anything, to create a similarly luxurious party. Sure, I spent a little less than them, sewing my own dress and even arranging my own flowers, but still? I won't pay that off for another five years. A good friend chose a wedding over buying a house and now, facing divorce, regrets that more than anything. I wish I'd spent less than $5,000 and invested the rest on my house. You can't divide the assets of your wedding.
  • Let the person in whose name the bills are, pay them. They don't have to come out of that person's bank account; but it's a necessary thing to know whether your credit is being affected by late (or nonexistent) payments.
  • If one spouse is in charge of paying all the bills, the other one should collect the mail. Don't think of this as distrust. Think of it instead as checks and balances. If your husband forgets to pay a bill, and feels ashamed, maybe he'll hide the late notices -- I only say this because I've done it, myself!
  • Put large assets in both your names (including rentals). Maybe it seems extreme, but you'd hate to have your significant investment in the house disappear because you trusted your wife to be faithful -- with her love and her finances -- always.
  • Commit to always consulting one another on any debt (no matter how large or small). A simple thing such as refinancing a car can put you in a difficult situation. Want to put your new work wardrobe on credit? It's sensible, maybe, but your spouse deserves a say.
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