As part of #MarriageWeek, Setfords family lawyers are offering insights, personal and professional into the ingredients that make for happy coupling, and advice on where to turn and what to do if you find you and your partner’s paths diverging.
No one was more surprised than me when I decided to pursue a life of wedded bliss. I was adamant that I was going be a bachelorette for the rest of my life! However following a happy about-turn (well, that is what I tell him!), I now find myself deep in wedding preparations – not just for the day itself – but for my life as part of a married couple.
As a Family Solicitor I experience the full range of family relationships every day – from new couples preparing for lives together to those suffering the fall out of separation and divorce. I have to admit that despite this professional experience, it is only in the months following my own engagement that I have fully appreciated the very real, very challenging questions that marriage poses.
My fiancé and I were raised as Roman Catholics and have decided to marry within the church. As such we have to attend Catholic marriage classes. When I first heard about these classes I pictured a Catholic version of Take Me Out with the priest as Paddy McGuinness – uncovering our most embarrassing habits in front of a crowd of judges made up of nuns and other couples judging us on how often we go to church, who our favourite saint is, and why there should be no sexual intercourse before marriage.
However, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. The classes are designed in a way that asks us to consider the fundamentals of our life together – now and in the future.
I am not here to espouse the Roman Catholic church, but rather to highlight the five key issues we’ve been asked to consider as a couple before we say ‘I do’:
1. Money talks
We all need to get rid of our British attitude to money – which is generally to remain tight lipped!
Before marriage, be open about your respective financial situations, in particular:
- Do you know how much each other earns, including benefits?
- Do you know whether each of you have pensions?
- Do you know whether each of you are in debt and roughly how much?
- How do you intend to split your financial obligations (ie. will it be on a sliding scale based on earnings or will it be equal shares)?
- Will you have a joint bank account and, if yes, what do you intend to use this account for?
- Will you still keep you own bank accounts?
- What is the financial situation when you go out together for meals/cinema/theatre/holidays, etc?
2. House and home
You may indeed be living together before marriage, or even have already bought property together, but marriage can have an effect on what you own, and how you own it:
- Do you earn property together or intend to?
- If you are to own property together, do you intend to hold it as tenants in common or joint tenants? If the property is in the sole name of one partner, what will happen should you separate?
- What will happen to monies loaned for a deposit from parents or other relatives?
- Do you have any property that has been left to you and, if yes, what will happen to that if you ever separate?
- Do you have any property that you owned prior to your relationship (or prior to your marriage)?
3. When two become three
This is a big one, but surprisingly some couples marry having never truly discussed how they see their family evolving. Be honest with yourself and each other:
- Is having children really important to you?
- Do you both want children?
- Would you be able to remain a couple should the other not want to have children?
- Do you agree in terms of education?
- Do you intend to raise your children within a certain religion?
- Where will you spend Christmas/Easter/other holidays
- Will you alternate years between your families?
- Will you invite your respective families
- Do you intend to have family holidays together?
4. A job is not for life
While marriage is seen as a commitment for life, there are few careers that enjoy the same longevity! Talking about your dream job and how you see getting there is equally important as consideration of finances, property and children.
- Do either of you have career plans that will dramatically change your lives (such as leaving your job and becoming self-employed or taking on a job with lots more hours)?
- If one of you obtained a job in a different area of England and Wales or in another country, would you both move to that area or would the family home remain where it is and the partner with the new job commute?
5. Time together
I often see couples whose troubles spring from the time they do, and don’t spend together. Many of us are working harder, with less time to reflect, enjoy and share experiences with our partner. It’s therefore really important to consider:
- Do either of you have a hobby that you are really interested in (yes- I am talking to you cyclists and marathon runners) that take up a lot of time?
- If yes, does this still allow for some couple/family time?
- Do you intend to go abroad on holiday?
- Does one of you have plans to travel the world and would the other partner want to go?
Whatever your path, take it together
As a family solicitor I regularly see clients who are unable to answer these basic questions. Some questions such as your desire for children can only be answered by you and your partner. Others such as the ramifications of marriage on property or finances can benefit from the input of an experienced lawyer.
This advice is also for those who are not, or do not intend to marry as the legal ramifications for you when separating are different to those who are married. If you are unsure of where you stand, seeking advice is a very sensible start.