The Starter Marriage - On the Rise?

The starter marriage is usually considered to be one that begins and ends before the spouses are thirty years of age and where there are no children.

These marriages often last less than 5 years. Oftentimes the partners are fresh out of school and often still living with their respective parents. They see marriage as a way to move out on their own or both are on fast track careers, are successful and ambitious, and see marriage as a way to enhance their status. They couple typically have large expensive weddings. All works well as long as both partners can maintain their jobs and careers. Recently, I have seen an increasing number of divorces from this age group. Loss of jobs, not being able to find and keep a career, credit card debt, little equity in the home and a high mortgage are just some of the financial factors facing these partners and adding to the divorce rate.

A recent story comes to mind: Jeremy and Sarah have dated for 8 years and decided to get married. Both of their parents have been divorced. They graduated from college, both with careers, and bought a house together. They both liked nice clothes and cars and spent money. Then Sarah lost her job and was unemployed for 6 months, then worked for 6 months and was laid off again with a severance package. They each put 50% of the down payment for the house. Sarah initially earned more than Jeremy so she paid $2500/month of their house payment and Jeremy paid $1300. Now their situation is reversed. She has credit card debt and he does not. Other than contributing $500/month into a joint account, they keep their finances separate. Sarah is wanting to change their money management structure. She feels that the mortgage payment should be on a pro rata basis of their income. Jeremy wants no part of this. He likes to spend his money on technology and hobbies, doesn’t have credit card debt, and sees their money as our money, his money, and her money.

This money dispute is not unusual in the starter marriages. Neither partner has spent much time thinking about their individual money values and have little experience trying to establish a joint money plan. They keep their finances separate and with that oftentimes their values and dreams are separate. They do not have the skills to create the financial foundation and when outside economic pressures become part of their household, they have no common financial language and cash control system. They have a renter mentality and eviction is the first strategy that comes to mind to reduce the stress.

Three years ago we had easy money available to buy houses, cars and toys. Finding and keeping a job was not a big concern.

Divorce is on the horizon for these two. Jeremy and Sarah are seeing a therapist about the emotional issues in their marriage, however, they also need a financial therapist to work with them – either to create an exit strategy or to build a common money system for their marriage partnership. Financial counseling is more effective and powerful before the marriage. In the case of Jeremy and Sarah, it may have come too late.

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