Yours, mine, ours

I'm re-marrying after getting divorced several years ago. What do I need to know before exchanging vows?

I’ve been married three times, and not one of my husbands dealt with money the same way. Most of us have clearly defined fiscal personalities that affect our decisions about everything from investments and housing to clothing and gifts. With every union, there are a whole new set of habits and preferences to learn about, and a ton of negotiating to do. Here are some basic things to think about before retying the knot:

Take inventory
Couples have always struggled with how to save and spend their money. For the newly remarried this can be further complicated by personal histories, particularly if spousal and child support are at issue. To create a realistic picture of your financial state, keep a written record of where your money comes from and where it goes for six months. Then you can decide how much each of you will contribute to the household and how much discussion is appropriate before purchases are made.

Look at the past
Understanding which money management styles are no longer appropriate in a new family is critical. For example, if you’ve always chased the blues with a shopping spree, you may have to take up kick-boxing instead. You must also understand the impact past decisions have on your new family. Often overlooked is the fact that divorce financial settlements are not binding on creditors. So, if you and your former spouse keep both of your names on a loan or account, you are at risk for each other’s behaviour. If he declares bankruptcy, the bank can still come after you for that car loan. That means your new family is also at risk. Take inventory of your financial obligations and remove your name from old accounts.

Check your insurance
Putting more kids and stuff under the same roof means you’ll need to do a full insurance review, from your home to your car. And if your divorce agreement assigns your former spouse as the irrevocable beneficiary on your life insurance to cover support responsibilities, it may be time to start shopping for new life insurance, too.

Revisit your will
Remarriage makes a will more important than ever before. You should deal with how your property will be distributed after death according to the law, the needs of your new family and prior agreements. Biological or adopted children of first and subsequent marriages are treated the same way. That may appear fair initially, but if the first group is through college and the second set are only in elementary school, the picture changes. Speak with adult children about their concerns and expectations. Make sure you have clearly communicated your commitments to your new spouse so there’s no misunderstanding about promises made.

Take some time
The initial issues my husband, Ken, and I dealt with were very different from ones that arose once we started having children together. Some of the things we should have talked about we opted not to, such as choosing a guardian for our kids or our feelings about debt. We kept these issues separate, which isn’t surprising since couples need time to figure out where they can meld comfortably. Ken and I are now joined at the hip financially. It took time and many early morning conversations to deal with the complicated issues, but 14 years later, we’re better at it than when we started.

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