If you are getting married soon, CONGRATULATIONS! So many details… planning, family and friend invitations, caterers, details details details. But don’t forget some of the most enduring decisions you will make BEFORE you tie the knot! Protecting your new family with sound planning and decisions can literally prevent divorce down the road.

With the number one reason for divorce being financial conflict, you’ll want to make sure that you have a plan for handling these issues BEFORE you take the leap to becoming husband and wife. Everything flowers, romance, spontaneous hugs and kisses makes the natural progression to real life issues like bills, wills, financial planning, children, in-laws and division of responsibility sometimes taking precedence in the relationship.

Settling these issues while you’re planning the wedding can save years of heartache and eventual divorce.

Let’s say you’re planning on buying a house. It looks good, it feels good when you walk inside (most people buy a house for purely emotional reasons), and it seems to fit what you envision your lifestyle being when you move in.

But don’t forget: Check for termites. How’s the plumbing? The electrical system?  The roof? Is it in a flood zone?  Does it have a clear title?

While it’s not very romantic to compare getting married to buying a new house, you are smart enough to know that you have to make sure it’s not going to fall apart or cost you more than you planned once you’ve made the commitment. With marriage, when you invest so heavily emotionally, financially, professionally, and socially, any edge you can have beforehand is going to greatly reduce the chances of divorce and disappointment.

I’m not encouraging you to plan for divorce, but I am saying it’s imperative that you plan NOT to be divorced.

Here are some conversations you will want to consider having before saying, “I do.”

1. Make sure you both know exactly what your financial situation is now and what your prospects are for the future. Make a list of credit cards, loan balances, other debts and monthly bills you currently have and what will continue after the wedding. Share this list with each other, keeping detailed, permanent records of these items so that, in the future, if a dispute arises, you know exactly what your status was at the time you married. Include bank statements, credit card statements, information about life insurance, tax records, and everything that you will need to avoid disagreements in the future.  Generally, in community property states, spouses can be liable for each other’s debts.

2. Do you need a pre-nup?  In the past, requesting your intended to sign a pre-nup was sometimes akin to being received as, “I don’t trust you.”  A pre-nup may be important in situations where one spouse comes into the marriage with substantially more assets or in second marriage situations.  You can fix what is considered separate property and community and decide in advance on such things as spousal support, taxes,and bills. Today, we know that in many marriages it’s just good business and is to protect both parties in case of divorce or lawsuits.

3  Make a list of all property you own that is not in already in a trust and decide how it’s to be “distributed” after the wedding.  As unnecessary as you think it might be, discuss what will happen to property that is accumulated in the future. What if one of you inherits a substantial sum of money or property from a parent or family member?   Get it in writing beforehand if you do not want these future assets to become community property in a divorce.

4. Discuss life insurance, health insurance, and other related issues and determine if you are both in agreement as to what should be acceptable when you are a couple and what levels of coverage you both feel would be best for each of you.

5. Discuss your estate plan – your Will or Trust. Do you have one now? Whether you do or not, discuss with your Personal Family Lawyer ® a will or trust that will go into effect once you have become a married couple.  Married couples have certain tax advantages that can be lost without the proper planning.  These things should not be filed away mentally as something you’ll take care of when you have kids or get close to retirement.  Do it now!

6. Discuss your taxes and how you will handle filing and tax liabilities for the future.

7. Discuss health and medical issues. Determine your current health status and decide for the future what you would want to happen should you become incapacitated – will you want to remain on life support and receive nutrition and hydration?   As your Personal Family Lawyer, I can help you create an Advanced Health Care Directive that will avoid stress and anxiety should something happen requiring one of you to make these decisions without knowing what your spouse’s wishes might be.

There are so many things you need to decide before getting married.  Which flowers and what colors the attendants will wear should be accompanied by deciding some of the issues I’ve listed above.  And keep in mind, these are just a few topics to start a dialog allowing both of you to get married with your eyes wide open and avoid serious pitfalls in the future.