Fighting over Finances Is Top Divorce Predictor

Posted July 31, 2013 in Divorce Your Money & The Law by

Couple arguing over bills


Fighting over money is the top predictor for divorce, according to a recent study published by a family studies scholar. Divorce lawyers agree – and one offers the rest of a top five list of divorce predictors, along with an added irony about money.


For Richer or for Poorer

The study, “Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce,” was published in the journal Family Relations by several scholars including Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and program director of the Institute of Personal Financial Planning in the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University.

“Argu[ing] about money is by far the top predictor of divorce,” Britt said in an interview with KSU. “It’s not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It’s money – for both men and women.”

Professor Jeffrey Dew headshot

Professor Jeffrey Dew

Specifically, out of five common issues for couples – including money, chores, sex, in-laws, and spending time together – “only financial arguments emerged as a predictor for men,” explains the lead author, Dr. Jeffrey Dew, PhD, an assistant professor at Utah State University. “Both financial arguments and arguments about sex predicted divorce for women, but financial arguments were more strongly predictive.”

The study was controlled for income level, debt, and net worth, so the results apply whether couples are rich or poor.

“You can measure people’s money arguments when they are very first married,” Britt told KSU. “It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, but when they were first together and already arguing about money, there is a good chance they are going to have poor relationship satisfaction.”



Irony Abounds

“While money is perhaps the top reason people get divorced,” agrees Bari Weinberger, a family lawyer with the Weinberger Law Group in Parsippany, N.J., “it is arguably the top reason people don’t get divorced as well.”

Attorney Bari Weinberger headshot

Bari Weinberger

“People typically refrain from moving forward toward divorce because of financial fear, [wondering] how will they financially survive without their spouse’s financial assistance, [or] how will they collectively make it in two households once their income is divided,” she explains.

Britt acknowledged that irony. “Even if divorce is not a possibility because of low income, the low relationship satisfaction could make matters worse,” she said. “Aside from a negative effect on children, increased stress leads to a further decrease in financial planning that could help better the situation.”


Top 5 Divorce Predictors

In Weinberger’s top five reasons for divorce, money figures as number one, even above domestic violence and unfaithfulness. Her top five predictors are:

  1. Money
  2. Adultery
  3. Domestic violence
  4. Lack of communication
  5. Health complications (unwilling to serve as a caretaker for a sick spouse)

Couples who want to prevent money issues – and thus possible divorce – can take several steps, according to Weinberger. “Communicate!” she says, first and foremost. “Communication keeps the frustration out of what to do later on.”

She recommends that couples “talk before marriage and again throughout as financial situations change . . . about how they plan to manage their finances, talk about how they intend to invest and save, how they intend to pay for household items, bills, college, vacations, etc.”

“Many people keep separate accounts; many people keep their funds together – but then they argue over how to divide payment of items,” she observes. “Know ahead of time and plan on how to spend.”


Prenups and Credit Cards

A prenuptial agreement can also help couples plan for money issues, setting up expectations about asset protection early. “Trust goes a long way,” Weinberger says.

“If one spouse is open to trusting the other with the financial responsibility – make sure that there is always disclosure so that the non-managing spouse knows what exists and where everything is invested should something ever happen to the managing spouse, but then really trust the managing spouse.”

Finally, “be careful not to live beyond your means,” Weinberger recommends. “This is a major problem that leads to divorce. People fight constantly about money in marriage when people are spending more than the income that they are generating. They can’t make ends meet and the hole they are digging is growing each and every month.”

“Don’t charge it on a credit card if you don’t have it to pay off when the statement comes in the mail,” she offers.

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