Financially Independent -- and Married

How to plan for the future, even if it means possibly being alone.
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Why Separate Money?

You said "for richer and for poorer," and you meant it. But you also want to make sure that, among everything you share, there are some resources -- and the freedom and peace of mind that come with them -- for you. In fact, experts say it's perfectly okay, if not wise, to carve out some financial independence for yourself, both for now and for whatever the future may bring.

"Financial independence is important in a marriage because it can also mean 'independence of thought,'" says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California and author of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page Books, 2002). "A woman who has some financial independence is free to state her mind, disagree, ask for what she wants, and a woman who doesn't is not."

But what kind of "financial independence"? Why would you need it if you've already gotten the Prince Charming, white dress, and the joint checking you always dreamed of? Isn't "financial independence" a nicer way of saying "Making sure you don't get screwed in a divorce?" And if so, what's an even nicer way to discuss it with your partner?

"Financial independence" means lots of things to lots of women. For one thing, especially as women marry later and later -- having lived on their own in the meantime -- many are independent when they walk down the aisle, and see no reason to change things. The next generation seems to be making similar plans. According to a Rutgers University study, the desire to "make it on my own" before getting married is increasingly important to twentysomething women (especially African-Americans). Of course, as the divorce rate still hovers around 50 percent, they may also want to make sure that, if necessary, they could "make it" after marriage as well. (A woman's standard of living can drop up to 27 percent after a divorce, while a man's may rise by 10 percent, according to the National Marriage Project.)

"I am totally uncomfortable with the idea of being financially dependent on my partner," says Michelle, 34, of Vienna, Virginia, who is currently supporting her husband while he looks for work. "My parents divorced when I was 10 and my mom was left with nothing, no job, and no direction. She went back to school and got a good job, but she has always stressed the importance of not only maintaining financial independence, but also my own direction and identity. While I look to my mom's example, I feel that my relationship with my husband is better because we are equal partners and decisions are made together."

Women heading into a second marriage may also be skittish about sharing everything or having their new husband play banker.

Mostly, though, women seek -- or maintain -- some degree of financial independence for positive, in-the-know reasons. For many, it's not about dollars and cents so much as a sense of self. "Single women really are in a position to have everything they need and want -- car loans, credit cards, mortgages in their own name -- which, not so long ago, was not the case," says Diana Adile Kirschner, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Manhattan. "They really have a separate identity and selfhood, and when they get married that's going to play out financially."

Mila, 38 of New York City, is actually trying to become more independent before she walks down the aisle next year. "The idea of 'sharing a life' has flung me onto a financial-independence fast track. I'm starting to look at investment properties down south, in my name," she says. "I have two friends going through harrowing divorces with 'nice guys' who secretly spent wads of moola on Internet porn and liquor. I think women need to maintain their own security. Although a 'real' partnership comes from the merging of two independent sources, you've got to keep some enmeshed-free zone of your own."

Continued on page 2:  True Partners


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