Skip to main content

By Joseph Warren Kniskern, Esq.

Remarriage Finances: Planning For A Family Merger — Not A Hostile Takeover

In the previous article in our ongoing series, we reviewed the significant aspects of how the issue of separateness in finances can have a double-edged effect on remarriage partners. In this installment, we offer some suggestions as to how to keep separateness from overwhelming your remarriage.

Talk out your feelings and needs first. Instead of letting separateness creep into your finances and rule the day, encroaching on your remarriage, talk out your feelings and concerns with your spouse. What are your fears? What would it take to trust your spouse to loosen control over personal assets? Are you able to let go of whatever past events may have scarred you financially? What are the priorities in your remarriage? What are the financial risks and concerns involved which require advance planning?

Are you feeling powerless and out of control when your mate handles more financial assets than you do? Are you afraid of being abandoned or manipulated by the financial imbalance in your relationship? Express those fears and concerns directly. Spend the time wisely, using your energies to air out your feelings and needs rather than fruitlessly warring against each other in a battle for control.

If one spouse bringing assets into the remarriage wants those assets to go to his or her children from a prior marriage and any new children born in the remarriage, how can the remarriage partners meet this need without the other spouse (and his or her children) feeling rejected? Couples need to put issues like these on the table for discussion rather than defaulting to pragmatic decisions. Deal with it before remarriage, or it deals with you later!

Talking out issues and putting your heads together to explore options, promotes harmony and balance of strengths among the remarriage partners. Lack of communication allows different feelings and needs to compete to the death. Candid and thorough communication prevents a remarried couple from falling into the pitfalls and traps ahead. They can plan around them. Most importantly, pray about these matters and seek the Lord's guidance. Talk alone with your spouse without the Lord goes nowhere. (I learned this the hard way a few times.)

Make a commitment to be truthful to each other as you talk things out. You will be surprised at how liberating this process will be (as Jesus promised in John 8:32). But meet the issues head-on in a sensitive and loving way. Do not withhold anything which could be the source of deep resentment later on. "Stuffing feelings" absolutely will not work! Try to isolate where the power differentials are in your relationship. Give each other sufficient time to express how each remarriage partner feels about those imbalances, and what he or she believes could be done to bring the matter more on an equal plane. If the discussion becomes too heated, take a break to think and pray, setting a time and date to come back and pick up the process once again. In the meantime, read Philippians 2 several times to get a better handle on God's perspective!

This initial step is vital to working through, and resolving, the personal power struggles and unmet needs that provoke the feelings which undermine the relationship.

Mutually decide on a plan of action. First step? Pray--hard and often! Financial issues are so sticky, I recommend praying together, and separately, before and after "the talks" to invite God into this area of life covered with so many hidden landmines.

Then, after talking out your feelings and needs, try to reach agreement on how each need ought to be addressed. This takes hard work, creativity and negotiation to establish balance with equally shared power and control between you and your remarriage partner wherever possible. At the same time, continually ask for the Lord's help to achieve a loving unity and peace.

Obviously it would be much better if separateness were not the norm in remarriage. Therefore, the couple may begin by focusing on all financial areas where joint control and responsibility would not pose any significant problem. Ask for the Lord's direction, then make a written list of what you will jointly own and earn together in the remarriage (all of the Joint Marital Assets) to build up a sense of sharing power equally. One or both spouses may need a separate checking account to track Personal Assets, but why not use a joint checking account to receive and spend joint marital funds? The same would be true of credit cards. This encourages and promotes mutual cooperation and trust. It is a most important step after praying first to invite the Lord into your discussions and provide you with a firm foundation for your decisions!

A plan of action also includes making a budget for all marital income and expenses. This may include spending limits, "check with each other" agreements, before exceeding those spending limits and making major purchases, setting up a savings plan, and agreeing on investment strategies for joint funds. (We will address this matter in more detail in an upcoming article in this series.)

Wisely integrate assets. It is foolish and reckless for a remarried couple to say, "Oh, so what?! Let's just dump everything together and forget about all these issues!" That merely buries the feelings and needs, which require focus and attention. And it leads to a whole host of other problems as well!

The mature and responsible approach is for the remarried couple to ask themselves, "How can we use all of the assets under our joint and separate control in the way God wants us to take care of our family, promoting trust, commitment and unity between us?"

Integrating assets, if that is the couple's goal, does take time. But, even with separate assets coming into a remarriage, it will not take too many years before what the couple earns and owns in common will be on par or even exceed what each spouse owns separately. If that scenario occurs, concerns about separateness should naturally fade away.

In all events, heart attitudes and fears need to be brought to the Lord. It is critical that a couple fully trusts each other first, or lingering doubt will remain, prompting the asset-laden spouse to maintain control over the other spouse. It usually takes years of working hard to build up trust in the remarriage (not months!), although the groundwork should be in place by the seventh or eighth year of the relationship, according to remarriage experts.

Don't let your assets become a liability. Have a mindset of wanting to serve and reassure your spouse whenever possible. Is it really better to hang onto a position of control at the expense of wounding your mate? Filter each of your decisions through prayer and a gracious, loving and sacrificial perspective as much as possible. Your primary concern and commitment must be to the one you marry!

Above all, avoid letting any separateness in finances tempt you to into selfishness and exploiting your remarriage partner. In his book, "Loose Balls", former New York Nets basketball player Jayson Williams gives us a humorous example of exploitation in describing former teammate Armen Gilliam: "When I played for the Sixers, he lived next door to me in a $400,000 condo, but his lights were never on. And then one day he had company because I heard people over there, and I go outside to look, and I see he does have lights. And then I trip over something, and I see Armen's whole apartment go dark. I had tripped over an extension cord that he had run under my patio and was stealing my power."/[1] Sometimes if we are not satisfied with what we have, we may try to steal some of our remarriage partner's power. We first need to be content with ourselves and our personal financial circumstances coming into the remarriage without selfishly wanting more.

Don't let separateness build upon itself. The real danger of separateness is that it can act like a cancer in your remarriage. For example, if you have joint and separate financial interests, and this situation engenders anger and frustration for either or both spouses, what is the result? Withdrawal of feelings and limited personal involvement. What happens then? More separation in other areas. One spouse begins spending more time alone, while the other goes out with friends on a regular basis. Soon plans are being made for separate vacations at different times of the year. Little by little the couple truly is becoming two single individuals linked only by a marriage certificate, rather than interactive and loving partners.

It may be prudent and wise to have some separateness in finances--certainly in the beginning years of a remarriage. Giving each spouse some time alone periodically is a very healthy thing to do. But hold the line on just how far the separateness goes. Be on guard for drifting of feelings and withdrawal. If you see this happening in your remarriage, this is the time for immediate marital counseling and reaching out for each other!

We will come back to how separateness affects consideration of private trusts and premarital agreements later on in this series. But in our next article, we begin where most couples considering remarriage begin--the "getting to know you" and financial planning stage of entering into a lifelong partnership. Then we will see how different and unique remarriage issues often change our goals and plans.

[1] The Miami Herald, April 11, 2000, Page 2D

Next: Getting Started As A Remarriage Couple: Planning Your Financial Future Together

Joseph Warren Kniskern is a Christian attorney, mediator, and author of When The Vow Breaks: A Survival and Recovery Guide For Christians Facing Divorce, and Making A NEW Vow: A Christian Guide To Remarriage And Blending Families, both available from Broadman & Holman Publishers, Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee.