Can Financial Problems Escalate Divorce Risk?

Financial Woes as a Precursor to Divorce

Many people experience ongoing stress about money. Housing costs continue to rise and educational and tuition fees for children have grown substantially while wages and salaries have often failed to keep up with growing expenses. The emotional and financial stress caused by these circumstances can lead to marital conflict and even a New Jersey divorce, where money matters may once again stand front and center during the process.

Financial Problems Are Often Stressful

It may seem a truism that financial difficulties lead to greater stress during a marriage. Couples may be deeply worried about how they will make ends meet, pay the bills and raise their children. They may have different approaches to and values about money, and these problems can lead to fundamental conflicts in a relationship. According to one survey, around 35% of people say that finances are the sources of the greatest stress in their personal relationships.

There are different types of money woes that couples may experience as well as different conflicts. If one partner loses their job or is out of work, the other partner may feel a growing level of responsibility and stress, or they may feel like they no longer have an ally in solving financial problems. Even in relationships where both parties always planned for one parent to stay at home with the children, salary cuts or a more expensive lifestyle may lead to greater stress and conflict. If the spouse that planned to work loses their job, these conflicts can develop even more quickly. In all cases, situations that are largely external may lead to a growing level of distance and separation in the relationship.

Family lawyers often note that debt can be one of the major reasons why couples eventually decide to divorce. The issues associated with managing their financial obligations may cause a rift between partners to the point where the marriage is no longer viable. The property division aspect of a divorce also may involve a significant level of emotional stress as well as financial concerns for these couples.

Why Debt Can Lead to Divorce

When a couple has debt, whether it was acquired during the marriage or was a pre-existing obligation of one of the spouses, they may need to spend more time and money working to get out of debt rather than pursuing other goals. Couples may cut back on romantic activities, fun dates and time together when worrying about debt. Some people may withdraw within themselves or take on more hours at work in an effort to solve their debt problems. Even cheap or free dates may only remind the spouses of their financial concerns.

Over one-third of couples stop going out or scheduling other planned activities because of debt. This comes amid many other indications highlighting the level of stress and emotional challenges associated with higher debt. Over half of the respondents to one survey said that a spouse in debt is a reason to call a family lawyer and consider a divorce, and over 60% of participants said that they had considered delaying marriage to avoid dealing with a partner’s debt.

Marriage is not the only thing that can be delayed because of debt. If one or both partners is carrying a high debt burden, they may put off having kids or buying a home. This may be less of a concern for couples not planning to become parents or prioritize homeownership, but for others, it may lead to feelings that the relationship will never allow them to achieve their most important goals. When debt leads to a choice not to have children and parenthood is a major goal for one spouse, there may be no way to reconcile these concerns except to divorce.

Managing Debt in a Relationship

Debt does not always have to lead to divorce. After all, the end of a marriage is itself often a financially difficult period. A New Jersey family law attorney may provide advice about how divorce can change a client’s financial plan. In some cases, conflict over debt may reveal more fundamental differences in values and approach that may make it necessary to reach out to a divorce lawyer so that each party can pursue the future they desire. In other cases, couples may be able to manage their financial issues with greater communication and mutual understanding.

When one or both partners have a significant debt, they may disagree about how to use their disposable income. Some spouses may want to work to aggressively pay down and eliminate their debt, but others may prefer to make smaller payments over a longer period of time while spending more on experiences or putting less effort into earning more money. These different goals and approaches to spending may lead some couples to compromise while others may discover deep differences and incompatibilities in their values. It can be particularly important to discuss approaches to debt and other money issues before marrying.

When you marry someone, you do not marry their pre-existing debt. In most cases, one partner will not become responsible, for example, for the student loan debt or credit card bills of their spouse from before their marriage. Individual debt can also be accumulated during the marriage. Marital debt and pre-marital debt are different, but some kinds of debt may be primarily individual while others may belong to both partners. Disputes about these issues can arise during the property division phase of a divorce in New Jersey family courts.

When Debt Is Kept Secret

One of the most significant issues may arise when one partner keeps debt or spending a secret from the other. For example, one spouse may have concealed debt from before their marriage. While marriage does not impart that debt to their new spouse, it can, as previously noted, change their life path as a couple. This problem can be exacerbated when the secret debt is accumulated during the marriage.

One party may make purchases and hide them from the other, they may open credit cards without their spouse’s knowledge, or they may mislead their spouse about their income in either direction. In some cases, people may lie about debt because they do not want to add more stress to their spouse, or they feel a deep sense of shame about their growing credit card bills. Surveys and reports by divorce lawyers indicate that some level of hidden spending can be quite prevalent.

However, the result can be corrosive to trust in a relationship. People may tell their family law attorneys that they consider this kind of secret debt akin to a kind of “financial infidelity.” And the shame associated with debt, whether secret or open, may lead people to avoid talking about the problem and cause anxiety, depression and other issues. Open communication about financial problems, sometimes mediated by a professional, may help people without a deeper conflict to resolve their concerns and develop a plan to overcome their woes.

Consult With a New Jersey Divorce Attorney

Debt can lead not only to financial stress but also reveal deeper conflicts of values and visions for the future. If debt is leading your relationship to an end, you can contact the experienced New Jersey family law attorneys at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or submitting our secure online form for a consultation. We have offices in Red Bank and Watchung.

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