Marrying someone with children means that your finances will become more complicated as you include the needs of your spouse and any children who join your household. Many of the issues you confront will be the same issues that any marrying couple will face, including budgeting, insurance and integrating your employee benefits.
Money Issues when Marrying Someone with Children
How will your finances change?
Before getting married, it is important to sit down with your fiancé and discuss what assets, liabilities and responsibilities each partner is bringing to the marriage. Although your joint income may be substantial, if you and/or your spouse have children from a previous marriage or relationship, your money will need to stretch further than it use to. You’ll need to set up a new budget to accommodate the needs of your growing family and consider what new expenses you’ll have. You may need to budget for both everyday expenses, such as food, clothing, childcare and future expenses like a larger car, higher education or a new home. Learn more about budgeting in our Advice Center.
Does it matter who pays for what?
When you and your fiancé get married, you should decide whether to keep your finances separate or combine them. Like many individuals who remarry, you may want to keep your credit, bank accounts and property separate if you or your spouse have past credit problems. You can decide that it’s fair that your spouse pay for the expenses of his or her child, while you pay only for general household expenses. However, you may feel that combining finances will solidify your family and make your finances less complicated. Like many stepparents, you may want to contribute a certain amount toward your stepchild’s expenses or even pay all of his or her expenses. Usually, this causes no problems, but you also need to consider what will happen in the event that you and your spouse divorce. Will you want to continue supporting the child financially? In general, even if you have been paying the expenses of your spouse’s child, your spouse can’t force you to pay child support if you haven’t adopted the child. Because your responsibilities to him or her are voluntary, you most likely won’t be held responsible to pay for your stepchild’s expenses.
Whichever decision you make concerning how income is used, it is important to make firm decision on a course of action.
How will child support or alimony payments affect your finances?
If your fiancé has been divorced and is receiving alimony or child support, you’ll need to decide whether this money will be put into a separate account or will be used by you as a couple in order to support your combined family.
However, it’s best not to count on alimony or child support payments to offset your increased living expenses. Depending on the terms of the divorce, when he or she remarries, your spouse may stop receiving alimony or payments may be reduced. Although child support payments will likely continue for a specified period, there’s no guarantee that the amount of the child support payment will remain the same. For example, If your spouse’s ex loses his or her job, he or she can petition the court to reduce the amount of the child support payment.
However, if you’re marrying someone who’s obligated to pay child support, you should understand what your spouse’s obligation is and realize that it could increase in the future. It’s even possible that your spouse’s ex can go to court and ask that child support be increased because your spouse has remarried and you’re contributing to the household income, thus leaving your spouse more income to pay child support.
Other Issues That May Arise
Should you consider a prenuptial agreement?
If you and/or your fiancé have children, you should consider executing a prenuptial agreement, for example a contract that will spell out each partner’s rights, duties, and obligations during marriage, to determine what will happen should you separate, divorce or if one of you dies. You may find that a prenuptial agreement is useful when children are involved because it can eliminate conflicts over estates and ensures both parties their legal rights and the legal rights of any children will be protected. Even if you have a will, consider executing a prenuptial agreement as well. Unlike a will, a prenuptial can’t be changed unless both parties agree, giving you added peace of mind.
Should you consider adopting your spouse’s child?
You may want to adopt your spouse’s child for emotional and legal reasons. Adoption can protect your rights in the event that your spouse dies and you want to continue raising the child, and it may protect your right to make decisions on behalf of the child. However, adopting your spouse’s child may mean that if you divorce, you can be ordered to pay child support, even though your relationship with the child may be severed. If you decide you do want to adopt your spouse’s child, you’ll find that doing so is easier than adopting a nonrelated child if your spouse’s former husband or wife is no longer living. If your spouse’s ex is alive, you’ll have to seek his or her permission to adopt the child. If he or she refuses, you may not be able to adopt the child, unless the parent’s rights are terminated because he or she abandoned the child or is considered an unfit parent.
Why is estate planning particularly important?
When you marry someone who has minor children, you’ll want to consider what will happen to those children in the event you or your spouse dies. Do you want to provide for the children in the event you die? If you spouse dies, will the children live with you or with their other parent or family member? Because child custody issues can be complicated when the person who wants custody isn’t biologically related to the child, you’ll want to make sure that you get advice from an attorney on this issue. If either or you brings substantial assets into your relationship, you may also want to make sure that your children retain the right to those assets in the event that you and your spouse divorce.
One way to plan ahead is to make sure your estates are distributed according to your wishes. Both spouses and any children must clearly understand what those wishes are. For example, you and your spouse may want to set up one or more trusts for your children and/or one another, or you may want to execute a prenuptial agreement along with your will. You may want to agree to leave a specific amount to the surviving spouse and the rest to any surviving children, or you may want to use life insurance to provide for your children or your spouse. Learn more about estate planning here.
Income Tax Considerations*
Are child support and alimony payments taxable or deductible?
Alimony payments must usually be included in the gross income of the recipient but can be deducted by the payer, although the divorce agreement may designate alimony as nontaxable and nondeductible. However, child support payments are ordinarily considered nontaxable income and are nondeductible to the payer.
Will you be able to claim additional dependency exemptions?
When you marry someone with children, you may or may not be able to claim the children as dependents on your tax return. Ordinarily, the parent who has custody of the children is entitled to claim the exemption, regardless of who pays child support. However, the noncustodial parent can claim the exemption if the custodial parent agrees to it in writing or it’s part of the divorce agreement.
These topics can be uncomfortable to talk about with your finance or spouse. Consulting a lawyer is a good way to ensure that all parties are protected.