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From The Wall Street Journal: How Divorce Lawyers and Marriage Counselors Manage Money With Their Partners

BY Spectrum Wealth Management | Feb 22, 2023
By Julia Carpenter
February 9, 2023

Divorce lawyers and couples counselors see how often money leads to the end of a relationship. When these professionals return home, they put into action several steps to make sure they have a healthy relationship with their finances and their partners.

Lisa Zeiderman, 61 years old, a divorce lawyer in New York, and her husband, Lloyd Zeiderman, an 86-year-old wealth and business manager, spent the better part of their respective careers thinking about money and relationships. They have front-row seats to how financial issues can tear couples apart.

At home and at work, Mrs. Zeiderman preaches “the mailbox rule.” 

Every weekend, when she and her husband drive out for breakfast, she stops the car at the end of the driveway and checks the mail. While they share money, he takes the lead on managing their investments and communicating any new developments to his wife. But she said checking the literal receipts—both in the mail and digitally—can offer peace of mind. 

“If the credit-card statements are no longer available or passwords are changed or you used to have discussions about money and now you don’t, that may be the sign of something brewing around you,” she said.

Mrs. Zeiderman said her career has taught her to prioritize transparency when it comes to relationships and money.

Sharing money with a romantic partner leads to greater overall relationship satisfaction, and combining financial power in turn leads to greater wealth for the household, studies have found. Despite these demonstrated benefits, many couples see talking about money as a gateway to more fights and less peace.

But many seasoned legal, financial and counseling professionals say they have seen firsthand the repercussions of letting money problems fester. We asked some of them to share even more lessons they have learned and put to the test in their own relationships.

Talk. All the time. Especially when it is uncomfortable.

“Just talk about it” is some of the most common—and occasionally infuriating—advice quarreling couples receive. But in practice, maintaining a low-stakes, ongoing daily discussion about expenses, savings and your respective financial habits can lessen the tension many people feel around these money conversations, said Matt Lundquist, the 46-year-old founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy in New York who also counsels couples. 

For the Zeidermans, who have been married for almost 25 years, the conversation never stops—and that is intentional, they both say. 

“There’s no scheduled sit-down, and it isn’t an organized event,” Mr. Zeiderman said. “But the bill comes in, we talk about it. If we’re buying something for her daughter or my son, we make a joint decision.”

They both admit they aren’t always in perfect agreement. Over the years, Mr. Zeiderman has lent money to an old friend. When she first saw the wire transfer, Mrs. Zeiderman had some questions. But in talking about the issue, she said, they agreed to call a truce: when a particular expense is especially personal to the other partner, they can allow some leeway.

Lloyd Zeiderman said he and his wife don’t schedule a regular sit-down to discuss finances. Rather, it’s ‘an ongoing conversation.’

When Mr. Lundquist and his wife of 13 years talk about coming expenses, savings plans or the impact of inflation on their budget, they don’t only talk about the numbers, he said. 

“Don’t just sit down and go through the budget, but parallel to that, say ‘how do you feel about that?’” he said. “It’s astonishing how many couples don’t talk about that and the consequences of that.” 

Lay it all on the table.

Valentina Shaknes, a 43-year-old New York City lawyer and one of the founding partners at Krauss, Shaknes, Tallentire & Messeri, has become familiar with a certain story: A successful, confident woman in the throes of divorce proceedings realizes how little she knew of the overall household finances. 

Valentina Shaknes and her husband, Alexander Shaknes.PHOTO: VALENTINA SHAKNES

“They would really rely and defer to their husbands to manage their family finances, which is so different from their professional lives, where they’re running the show,” Ms. Shaknes said. 

In divorce proceedings, Ms. Shaknes describes a document she says she has since come to love: the statement of net worth. Each party fills out expenses, income, assets, liabilities and more in granular detail, so that each has the complete picture of the other’s financial situation. Ms. Shaknes recommends couples try doing this exercise while they are still together, rather than waiting until a breakup.

At home, Ms. Shaknes recreates the process with her husband of 23 years. Each time, they discuss mortgage payments, real-estate taxes and credit-card spending, and adjust for new factors like education costs for their children. The exercise may be tedious, but she’s adamant they both have eyes on the numbers.

“Our lives are so full with all of the responsibilities and obligations, and you have to divide and conquer,” she said. “But you also need to know.”

Be willing to change.

Adam Kol, a mediator, tax lawyer and former financial adviser based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., calls himself “The Couples Financial Coach.” When he and his wife got married at the start of 2023, he said they had been sharing money for almost a year, in part to more easily manage the expenses related to their wedding. 

At the start of their relationship, Mr. Kol identified as “the saver” and his wife as “the spender.” 

They have since learned to spend money on things that enrich their lives, and vice versa. When they were first decorating their apartment, Mr. Kol said his wife took the lead on thrifting many of their artworks. Whenever he looks at the variety of pictures and art, Mr. Kol said he sees a visual representation of the middle road they found together. 

“Like all couples, we moderate each other,” he said. “She helps me loosen up a little bit and enjoy the day-to-day.” 

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal on February 9, 2023, and written by Julia Carpenter.


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