One blogger recently claimed that money was the root of all evil in the cause of divorce.  Although I disagree with him slightly — I believe that a breakdown in communication between spouses is the root cause of most divorces — communicating about money can certainly cause some major problems in a marriage.

Ron Leiber of The New York Times writes about the five money issues that can cause marital strife and some ideas on what to do about them:

REDUCED CIRCUMSTANCES If your household income and assets aren’t what they once were, it can be a real problem for spouses who are not living in the style to which they have become accustomed. You may have thought that neither of you could possibly be the kind of person who would feel this way, until you found yourself in the thick of it and were surprised you were contemplating leaving the marriage. “Do they decide to check out?” asked Ms. Wang, who is based in Palo Alto, Calif. “Because if they decide to re-engage, it means readjusting expectations about what married life is going to look like. Can they redefine a relationship that’s not based around the lifestyle?”

Sadly, some people simply cannot.

YOUR MISTAKES When one person in the household is the chief financial officer, there’s just one place to point the finger when things go wrong. So in families where the price of the home has fallen, the adjustable-rate mortgage is resetting to a higher payment and the retirement accounts have fallen 25 percent from their peak, the resident money manager sometimes comes under attack.

“If you go into debt, you may smack your head and say ‘How could this have happened?’ and ‘You never told me we couldn’t afford this big of a house,’” said Lili A. Vasileff, a financial planner in Greenwich, Conn., who has taken to calling her work “marital financial mediation.”

“But blame is not a Ping-Pong game,” she said. “This often happens because they didn’t realize that they weren’t making joint decisions.”

The solution is more transparency and conversations about assets, debts and risk. But after years of letting the other grownup in the house make the decisions, people get out of the habit of keeping up with the details.

YOUR PARENTS Some of the toughest financial problems that come up well into a marriage are those that feel like a choice between your spouse and another loved one.

Take an aging parent who needs specialized care but has run out of money or can’t get the treatment that you and your siblings want to provide without everyone spending a lot of their own money.

“Many couples find themselves in these situations ethically where they feel like they have to do something” to help a family member financially, said Jerry Gale, an associate professor of child and family development at the University of Georgia, where he’s part of an effort to integrate traditional therapy and financial planning. “But if I do that, what is the cost to my own family?”

YOUR CHILDREN While the desire to do right by the children often keeps couples together, the financial challenges that children pose can be formidable.

Ms. Vasileff, who is also the president of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners, said this sometimes comes up with a third child whose parents have bled the college savings dry paying for the first two children. “How do we not deprive our youngest child of what our other children had because we had more money then? Is that just life, that there is not enough left?” she said. “That really strikes hard between the two spouses.”

Even if you manage to get the children educated, they may move home in their 20s expecting their old room back. “It really comes to a boiling point when a couple realizes that they have very different expectations for what will happen when their kids reach the age of majority and how their coming home could affect the couple’s postretirement years,” Ms. Vasileff said.

YOUR UNCERTAINTY Most couples reckon with a sort of low-grade, long-term economic uncertainty that comes when so many people around them are losing their jobs. The stakes only get higher as you and your marriage age and you have children or other large financial responsibilities.

Some people handle this better than others, but the pervasive anxiety that often results can slowly wear down a couple.

It is possible, if you’re diligent early on and live below your means, to plan around many of these issues. A larger-than-average emergency fund can provide a better mental buffer against uncertainty. Starting early with college savings or buying long-term care insurance for your parents will help, too.

But few couples get everything right, which is why it’s a good idea to stop every so often and reassess how you’ve arranged your finances. Sometimes even the most basic practices deserve re-examination. Dan Icolari and his wife, who live in the St. George section of Staten Island, have been married for 46 years. But about 20 years ago, they realized that their different approaches to money were the source of a lot of their arguments.

“Rather than fighting, we decided to separate our bank accounts,” he said. “Once we did it, it instantly affected every other part of our relationship.”

Over the course of a long marriage, you’re bound to run up against financial issues that you didn’t plan for. Or you may simply change your mind about your goals and how money affects them.

“Step back from where you are, often in the heat of the emotions or frustration or anger,” said Mr. Gale, the Georgia professor. “I try to remind people to think about how they overcame stress and challenges in the past. I think couples, when things get stressful, it becomes ‘Here’s what I need to do or for you to do.’ But it’s really about what you can do together.”

Hat Tip to Daniel Clement for his post Financial Issues That Destroy The Best of Marriages.

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 30+ years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW for multiple years. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.