In a previous entry, Family Money Matters, I wrote about the pitfalls of financial dependence in a relationship and how that plays out in separation. In this entry, I’d like to offer a more concrete solution to this scenario.
Let’s say a couple comes together and decides to have children (or children suddenly become their new reality). The couple decides that one partner will stay home with the children. The other partner goes out into the world, makes money and supports the family. Over time, both enjoy the benefits of their role and also resent the limitations of it at times. Over more time, the relationship breaks down and the couple decides to separate. At that point, the resentment rises and the shortcomings of their respective roles become glaring. The stay-at-home parent has little or no job experience or skills. The working parent struggles to fit into the rhythm of the household. They enter the separation process feeling that they deserve compensation for their losses in the form of spousal support or challenging custody arrangements.
By the time they are at this point, it’s too late. I encourage everyone in a relationship with mutual dependency (that probably means all relationships) to be explicit in their roles. A written agreement between partners provides a sense of security if the relationship ends and holds both parties accountable to their earlier agreements.
It can be really simple. Here’s an example:
Sue and Tom agree that it’s in the best interest of their children for Sue to stay home and to care for them. She is willingly taking a leave from her work until the children are at least 5 years old, at which time Sue and Tom will re-negotiate this agreement. Sue and Tom understand that this decision will cost Sue advancement in her career. Therefore if their relationship should end at any point, Sue will need financial support from Tom to recapture her earning potential to reach the level of Tom’s. Sue and Tom also understand that this arrangement will cost Tom some experiences with his young children. Therefore the couple will make efforts to ensure that Tom get quality time with the children and if their relationship should end before the children become 18, they will share equal time and responsibility for the children.
Warning: this is NOT a legal contract. If a couple wants to take it to that level, they should talk to a lawyer about drafting one that will hold up in court. This is simply a letter of intent that the couple can look back on later to guide their separation decisions. It keeps it clear from the start not just in case of separation, but throughout their relationship.