Marriage is a financial and legal contract, not just a spiritual, romantic and/or emotional commitment. This is a foundational theme of living and loving in the Grown Zone, but also a fact that is too often glossed over in our society’s all but obsessive fascination with love, weddings and babies—whether we are actually prepared for them or not. As we often point out in the Grown Zone, marriage, in particular, may be the only legal contract people sign first and try to negotiate terms later.
And as you might expect, when the terms of a contract are not openly and fairly negotiated and soberly considered by all parties to the agreement on the front end, the result is conflict (too often, violent), breaches of contract (abuse, infidelity), and ultimately dissolution of the agreement (as in divorce) on the back end. In addition to the lost time and emotional toll, there are real and serious financial costs: The expense of a single failed marriage cycle, from financing the wedding and providing for children, to paying legal fees and other costs of divorce, can easily exceed $100,000.
Romantic notions of “true love” to the contrary, getting married is not a risk-free proposition. In fact, without establishing a healthy relationship foundation, including thorough consideration of the financial risks, needs, goals and expectations on the part of both partners, it is a recipe for financial devastation. The bottom line: Before you marry, do the math.
Consider these numbers:
The average cost of a wedding, according to the The Knot 2014 Real Weddings Survey: $31, 213
The average cost of a honeymoon, according the Conde Nast Bridal Infobank Survey: $5,100
The average cost of raising a child to the age of 18 in a middle-income family: $245,340 (This does not include college tuition and inflation.)
The average cost of a contested divorce: $15,000-$30,000. (If uncontested, less than $3,000.)
Marriage is an investment, not just of emotion, but of money. A sound marital partnership is not only worth that investment, but will likely produce more wealth, financial and otherwise. An unhappy or failed union will cost you dearly, not just emotionally, but in real terms, including bankruptcy, lowered living standards, damage to your credit, reduced earning power or worse.
It is no coincidence that the longest chapter of our book Loving In The Grown Zone is devoted to the role of financial decision making in the pursuit of healthy relationships. It is important that you treat relationships, and marriage in particular, as you would any investment of time, energy, emotion and money: Not to be entered into without proper preparation and due diligence.
And as with all investments, do your research, be honest about what you can afford to lose, know the risks and have clear expectations tied to your life goals, before deciding what to commit to any relationship, including marriage. This is the difference between enriching your life or experiencing major losses. Your future happiness, financial health and stability, and the quality of your life depend on it.
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