Expect the Unexpected: Marriage, Divorce and Your Finances

Life Transitions Bring Many Financial Complexities

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Transitions: Life is full of them, isn’t it? Some are the happy kind, like a new marriage, while others are the incredibly challenging and emotional kind, like divorce. What do they have in common? Oftentimes, though you may think you know exactly what you’re getting into, life throws you curveballs.

Much of the time, these life transitions are the result of deliberate decisions, but they can also be entirely unexpected. I’ve been through a few of these myself and I’ve also made efforts to help many clients through them over the years. Below, I provide a helpful perspective for anyone who may be navigating through the life transitions of marriage or divorce right now.


Marriage is a wonderful, special transition that, for many people, happens more than once. No matter what your marriage looks like, having a money conversation with your new spouse can be complex. You each bring your own money story, values, and financial resources, and obligations to the relationship. What’s important to realize is that, when two people come into a relationship with separate money values, it can easily create complications. Here are six tips to ensure money doesn’t cause a breakup.

1.     Commit to Marriage with Eyes Wide Open

Before you marry, sit down with your partner and review everything: your assets, income, liabilities, spending, and credit reports. Knowing where you both stand upfront will reduce tension and misunderstandings.

2.     Communicate – Often!

Share important aspects of your money history with your spouse so you can understand where one another is coming from with regard to your money values. This should be an ongoing conversation throughout your marriage.

SEE ALSO: The Impact that Financial Incompatibility Can Have in Your Romantic Relationships

3.     Set Goals

Talk about your goals for the future, including the financial components of each one. Goals conversations can help you clarify joint spending decisions and help you each understand wants versus needs.

4.     Develop Good Mechanics

Put thought into how your expenses will be treated. Will they be combined and paid from one account, or will you have a household account and separate accounts for individual expenses? Will you share expenses equally, or develop an earnings-based breakdown that takes each spouse’s income into account?

5.     Work Together

We’re all so busy these days, and it’s easy to save time by deferring all the financial decisions to one person. However, it’s crucial for both of you to remain engaged. That should include regular update conversations that allow you to assess your progress toward short- and long-term goals.

6.     Keep Communicating

This is, perhaps, the most critical step. The factors that affect your finances are always in flux. The economy, a change in your industry, or a change in your health can dramatically impact your finances – as well as you and your spouse’s attitudes toward money. Never shy away from talking it all through together.

Marriage is a special, exciting undertaking that can have many financial implications. Use the tips above to ensure your relationship won’t be derailed by money differences.

SEE ALSO: To Merge or Not to Merge: Finances in a Second Marriage


One of the most challenging and difficult transitions to go through is divorce, especially if it was unexpected. Divorce impacts approximately half of all families, and it is one of the most stressful life events a person can experience. These days, “gray divorce” among older Americans is actually on the rise. Most of us don’t plan for divorce and, when it happens, nearly every aspect of our lives change drastically. It feels devastating and can take a toll on your willpower and decision-making skills. Divorce is mentally and emotionally draining, yet also fraught with practicalities that must be addressed so that, when the dust settles, you can find yourself on solid ground financially.

Divorce has the unfortunate result of undermining much of a couple’s financial planning and wealth building. However, if you let financial decisions slide when you’re going through a divorce, you risk leaving your financial future in the hands of your ex-spouse. Here are four financial tips that I have found to be helpful when you’re experiencing divorce.

1.     Give it Time

This sounds cliché, but the truth is, there are very few decisions that need to be made overnight. When you begin the divorce process, remember to be patient and not to let your emotions dictate your financial future. So, gather your financial documents and deal with any immediate debt obligations, then allow yourself time to work through all the emotions you’re feeling.

2.     Make a List

Married couples amass lots of banking, investment, and insurance accounts. During the trauma of a divorce, though, it can be hard to remember where the accounts are. Try to put together a “Divorce Documents Checklist” for yourself that includes all the things you may need – financial accounts, pay stubs, tax returns – and begin working through where to find each one.

SEE ALSO: Five Tips for Raising Financially Empowered Children

3.     Keep Emotions Out of It

One of the most effective ways to come out of a divorce in a strong financial position is to keep emotions out of your decisions. After you’ve given things time and looked at your relevant documents, you can set your own financial priorities and work to get what you need to remain on firm financial footing. You may have to be assertive and truly engage in difficult conversations with your ex-spouse, but remain in the present and try to channel your feelings into the new, positive experiences you have to look forward to.

4.     Work with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA)

CDFAs are members of the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts and they are specially trained to help you with the personal financial considerations throughout the divorce process. They have knowledge of both tax and legal issues surrounding divorce, can help analyze pension and retirement plan issues, and determine whether you can afford to remain in your home.

Divorce is a time of immense transition and change. Use the tips above to help you prepare so that you can handle what needs to be addressed in the present and then move on to visualizing your post-divorce life and goals.

Final Thoughts on Transitions and the Unexpected

Transitions are a fact of life and, though they may be a combination of joy, disappointment, and excitement, they are certainly unpredictable. Keep in mind that there are ways to plan that can help you smooth even the most difficult and challenging transitions, and use the tips in this article to stay on track financially through all of life’s ups and downs.

If any of the advice above speaks to you, I encourage you to check out my book. In Flourish Financially: Values, Transitions & Big Conversations, I dedicate an entire chapter to transitions and managing the unexpected. My hope is that it will help you create the right plan for your future and present needs, while navigating anything life may bring.

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