Increasingly, moving in together has become a more common relationship milestone: According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, more than two-thirds of women over the past decade lived with their partners before getting married.
But in between splitting the bills and picking out furniture, you might wonder if combining your finances before marriage makes sense as well. While every couple’s situation is unique, there are things to consider that can help you and your partner decide if it’s the right move for you.
What to consider before deciding to combine finances before marriage
Have an honest conversation about your finances
While the prospect of taking the next step in your relationship is exciting, Cara Raich, a mediator, conflict resolution specialist and former attorney, recommends couples first have an open discussion about money.
“Talking openly about spending behaviors, debt and future goals upfront makes it less likely that money and financial decisions will stymie the success of a relationship,” she says. “Unmet, unarticulated expectations can lead to resentment and relationship deterioration.”
Here are a few questions that can help guide the conversation:
Are you a saver or a spender?
Do you have any debt, and if you do, how are you tackling it?
Are you actively planning for retirement?
How do you handle paying bills?
What stresses you out about money, if anything?
Answering these questions help clue you into your partner’s money habits and financial compatibility, which can also help you decide how much of your financial lives to combine, as that can mean anything from sharing a joint bank account to saving for joint goals together.
Consider a cohabitation agreement
While it’s not the most pleasant thing to think about, you and your partner also have to consider what might happen if you break up.
“Couples who decide to live together before they get married can face a very risky proposition, from a strictly legal perspective,” Raich says. “When cohabitating couples who are not married separate, they often have no legal recourse, even after the termination of long-term relationships.”
One thing that could help ease concerns is a cohabitation agreement, Raich says. Similar to a prenup, a cohabitation agreement is a contract that outlines how money, property and debt will be handled in the event of a separation between unmarried people. Make sure to talk to a legal pro to help you create one.
“A cohabitation agreement can take the place of the protections and obligations that come along with being married,” Raich says. “Importantly, the tone and tenor of any negotiation and agreement should be collaborative, supportive and loving to set a couple on a thoughtful path forward.”