Money and Marriage: Is green the color of love?

Reconsider the next time you look for overtime to make some extra money or volunteer for an extra project to impress the boss. Working on your marriage may be as financially important as working on your career.

Couples who stay together long term have more money for retirement, financial security and fun. According to research by Linda Waite, at retirement a typical married couple has accumulated about $410,000 compared to about $167,000 for those who have never married, about $145,000 for divorced and just under $96,000 for the separated. Married couples also have better access to health insurance, annuities, pensions and social security.

Married couples behave more responsibly about money because they have more responsibilities. Often, the spouse who manages money best takes over the duties for both partners. No more eating out every night or blowing the paycheck at the bar. There now is a financial watchdog on duty. Even in-laws can be valuable. Not to sound mercenary, but they provide a potential access to inheritance. They also tend to help couples, with about 29% of married couples receiving financial help from in-laws and about a quarter of families with children receiving financial transfers in the past five years.Marriage provides "insurance" in case of death. By getting married, spouses create an "annuity value" that is equal to increasing one's wealth by 12-14% at age 30, and by 30% at age 75, as compared to staying single.

So why don't couples think more about finances before pulling the plug on a marriage? Too often, decisions are driven by emotion and not rational thinking. Women, especially need to carefully weight the financial implications of a divorce as they usually experience a lower standard of living after the legal proceedings are finished. Couples may be better off staying legally married even if they do not want to be together.

Do your homework before you make any major decisions. Some issues to consider: Are you eligible for a spouse's pension? Have you been married more than 10 years, which will make you eligible for social security if you or your spouse do not remarry? Who carries the health insurance? Will you be responsible for support or other maintenance to your spouse?

Meet with a financial counselor before you meet with an attorney.
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