May 19 2017

Separate Finances? Guess Again.

Written by  Kevin J. Handy

A few of the attorneys from our office were out to lunch the other day when our conversations turned to the different types of relationships we see come through our office. The one that we ended up talking about the most is what I like to refer to as the “roommate marriage.” In this type of marriage the couple maintains separate finances as if they were roommates – they keep separate bank accounts and divide responsibility for the bills. One of the attorneys recalled a couple in a “roommate marriage” that she divorced where the husband was so meticulous about making sure everything was “even” that he kept a chart on the refrigerator to account for everything down to who paid for ice cream cones when they were out.

Needless to say, I am never surprised when “roommate” marriages end in divorce. Frankly, I wonder why the couple even got married in the first place. One of the fundamental principles of marriage is that it is a partnership where each spouse is supposed to contribute to the greater good of the marriage. If you are just going to operate independently, why bother?

The surprise for spouses in “roommate” marriages comes when they get to my office. That’s when they learn that all of the dividing of bills and maintenance of separate accounts doesn’t matter one bit when it comes time to divorce. “His money” and “her money” are just seen by the law as joint marital assets to be divided equitably. All that time they spent accounting for who paid for what? Totally wasted.

In one divorce I had where I represented the husband, the parties had maintained their “roommate” marriage for around thirty years. For whatever reason, during the marriage the wife had accumulated more money in her retirement accounts than the husband. She was shocked to discovery he was going to receive a good portion of her retirement accounts in the divorce. She simply couldn’t get over the fact that he was going to get some of “her” retirement money.

Bottom line? If you want to keep your money separate, don’t get married or get a good prenuptial agreement before you do.

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