As long as there have been couples, there have been spats over money. Family law attorney Shel C. Harrington says money and financial philosophy in general is one of the top three marital problems she sees. She has witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to marital money and provides some insight into three common ways couples handle their accounts.
1 Separate but not equal
Harrington says the most problematic system is when couples have separate accounts and divide up the bills. “If one side screws up, the consequence affects both,” she says. “If she doesn’t pay the electric bill, he’s in the dark, too.” Problems often arise when one person’s income changes, often resulting in resentment, or one person makes significantly more than the other and has more disposable income to play with.
2 One big pot of cash
Many couples who co-mingle all their funds delegate the money management to one partner. “Where it gets to be a problem is if it is done for controlling reasons or if the non-payor has no idea where the money goes,” Harrington says. This sets one partner up to be shielded from bad decisions and incapable of handling the money if something happens to the primary money manager. Best practice is for couples to discuss finances periodically so both parties understand where the money goes, how, and why.
3 Primary account plus “fun money”
Many couples pool all their money and then allocate an amount to each partner that cannot be questioned by the other. “My favorite model is most money into a shared pool for all expenses with equal agreed upon amounts going into separate accounts for discretionary spending,” says Harrington. The simplicity of this method may help couples communicate better about their money.