Marriage is changing.
Though that’s hardly big news anymore.
Heck. You can’t even listen to a Supreme Court oral argument without being hit with arguments about the meaning of marriage and the evolving legal principles behind it.
In writing on marriage planning, I wanted to call it a “marriage revolution,” but CNN anchor Carol Costello (@CarolCNN) one-upped my hyperbole with “marriage apocalypse.” So maybe “marriage Armageddon” followed by a “nuptial nuclear winter?”
Not to be outdone, disaffected millennial Anthony D’Ambrosio deduced that Facebook, a bad economy, and monogamy were to blame for his divorce, and proceeded to proclaim the end of marriage for our entire generation. (Prompting an excellent response from journalist and author Vicki Larson (@OMGchronicles))
But, edging back from alarmist tirades, it’s not a secret that millennials are marrying less and later than any generation before us, and that marriage rates across the board have plummeted. Sociologist and marriage commentator Philip Cohen (@familyunequal) offered this graph on his own blog, Family Inequality:
It’s also not a secret that our generation approaches relationships, and marriage in particular, differently than our parents or grandparents. So whether it’s a “revolution” or the end-of-days, how we define and approach marriage is evolving (or devolving) quickly.
But the law isn’t.
What’s a poor millennial to do?
For every millennial couple, it’s time to get a marriage plan.
If our generation is going to make marriage work–and by that I mean make the law of marriage match our subjective value of what our marriages mean to us–we need to think beyond simple live-in arrangements, beyond prenups. We need to start purposely and proactively planning our marriages, with something like the same effort we put into planning every other aspect our lives.
Thankfully, millennials have more reasons than most to embrace marriage planning, in all its varied forms. And there are more than a few considerations–particularly financial considerations–that ring particularly true for couples in their twenties and early thirties.
1. Your Student Debt
That’s right. That $900 per month payment you’ll be making to the federal government at a rate of interest roughly twice what you’re paying on your mortgage (or would be paying on your mortgage if you didn’t have all those damn student loans). As millennials struggle under the weight of record educational debt, couples need to think long and hard what the prospect of 30-years of student loan repayment means for them and their future plans. Will you put things off: buying a home, having children, saving for retirement? Will you come together as a couple to pay down the debt as quickly as possible, or will each of you prioritize debt differently?
2. Your Parents.
No, I don’t mean learning from your parent’s lackluster marriage (or blockbuster divorce). Though I could–and maybe should–in a later post. I’m talking about the $30 trillion wealth transfer from baby boomers to their Gen X and Gen Y children set to take place over the next 40 years. What will you do with gifts or inheritances from family? Share and share alike? Tuck them away for a rainy day? Are they gifts “to the family” or gifts to just one spouse? What if one inheritance is spent for the kid’s college education, while the other is saved? Each state will have its own laws on what gets divided in the event of divorce, and if you wait and see, you may be surprised at the outcome.
3. Your Digital-Nomad Lifestyle.
Location independence is a beautiful thing. But as you bounce between Maine in the summer, Miami in the winter, and Europe whenever you damn well feel like it, you probably didn’t stop to think that each state has different laws governing your marriage, and your rights if it ends. So you could wait and see what state (or country) you find yourself in should things go bad, or you could write your own rules at the start and remove the guesswork.
4. Your Startup.
We’re a generation of entrepreneurs (or special snowflakes incapable of taking direction). “Start-ups” are not only a viable career plan, they’re a legitimate replacement for a college education in some fields. But growing a business and nurturing a relationship at the same time isn’t easy. What’s even harder is figuring out how to keep that business in one piece when a marriage ends. Just ask Harold Hamm. The end of your marriage shouldn’t be the end of your business. And it doesn’t have to be.
5. Your Job.
There’s no denying marriage has become more egalitarian. Less breadwinner/homemaker, and more focused on both spouses chasing their professional goals. But a dual-career marriage means trade-offs, particularly when it comes to navigating work-related moves, kids, and doling out your precious-little free time. Millennial couples need to decide who will lean in (or lean out), and when, as well as how to balance the trade-offs that come from prioritizing one spouse’s career over the other’s.
We have the reasons.
Do we have the will?
Editorial Note: This post is part of the series, Making your Marriage Plan which will be ongoing throughout 2015. For other posts in the series, click here.