Experts weigh in on what Solo Moms should consider when merging households
Congratulations on your new engagement or decision to move in together! You’re giving love another chance, choosing to be happy and move forward. But, this time, there’s more to consider. Most important, you now have children. You may also own a home and have considerable savings and/or income. Going into this new phase of your life should be done with your eyes wide open—you need to protect yourself and your children. To help you get started, I’ve gathered the following expert advice from a child psychologist, matrimonial lawyer, and financial planner.
A new family structure
Your kids come first, even as you create a new family structure. Although your new partner may have developed a bond with your children, don’t forget that you are their mom, and it’s important to maintain a strong connection with your children.
“Kids want to know they are still the priority, above the new person’s desires,” says Dr. Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist known as Dr. Psych Mom. “It’s important to maintain alone, individual time with the children without the new person. If your kids never have time alone with you, they may feel upset and betrayed, thinking that everything is now about this new family when this isn’t even really their family.”
Make sure to keep those special moments or important traditions with your children. For example, prom-dress shopping should still be between mother and daughter. Weekly bonding times, such as a walk in the park or a special dinner together, should remain something between you and your children.
If you haven’t already, prepare to have several discussions with your new partner about your roles in the children’s lives. It can be difficult to find a balance between what you may need or expect, what role your partner would like to play, and what your children want, so take the time to come to an agreement. This includes everything from who will handle transportation to cooking dinner. And, make sure you are clear on discipline.
“If there’s one thing that should remain the same, it’s that the biological mother should have the final word on discipline,” Rodman advises. “If he wants to help you discipline your children, let him do all he wants. But, if someone should have final veto power, it should be the mom.”
Moving in together
Before you move in together, make sure you both agree on the terms and put something in writing. Different considerations should be made if your new partner is moving in to a home you own versus you both moving in to a rental property together.
“If you aren’t married to someone but put their name on the deed, then you are converging property into joint tenancy,” explains matrimonial attorney Jennifer Kouzi of Kaminer, Kouzi & Associates LLP. “That will unnecessarily complicate things if you split down the road. If you die and haven’t dealt properly with your estate, at least half of your home could end up going to the other person (whom you aren’t married to) instead of to your children. If you do marry, I very strongly recommend a prenuptial agreement to protect yourself and the children.”
If you will be living in a rental, make sure you agree on who will stay in the home and the time frame in which the other person has to leave if the relationship ends. You also need to discuss how expenses will be shared—an even split, based on a percentage of your income, etc.
Should you get a prenuptial agreement?
In short, yes! As a mom, you need to legally protect yourself and your children if you choose to remarry; therefore, before remarrying, discuss thoroughly with your new partner what you want to include in the prenuptial agreement. Once the two of you agree on all points, it’s best to have them written into a legal document.
Kouzi advises that you think carefully about your previous divorce as you determine what you want to include. Did you and your ex argue over a pension or retirement account? Was there a disagreement about how to split joint property or items? Was spousal support a hot topic? The disagreements you had will help you decide what to include in your agreement.
Your financial future should also be considered. It is always important to protect your financial assets, especially if you are more financially secure and/or earn a higher income than your partner. Work with your partner and a lawyer to create a financial plan, should anything happen.
Your children’s financial future
As part of your prenuptial agreement and your will (yes, you need one of those also), consider your children’s financial future. If you want to leave them an inheritance, set aside money for college, take out life insurance, or create separate accounts, you should legally document these wishes.
If you’d like to set aside money for your children, take the time to research the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) and Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)—both are custodial accounts that allow your children to own securities without needing an attorney to prepare trust documents or a court-appointed trustee. If saving for college is your main concern, then research 529 accounts. These options all have benefits and consequences.
“For UGMAs and UTMAs, these accounts are assets technically held in kids’ names, so when [the kids] reach the age of majority, they will have control over assets,” David Wilson, a senior wealth adviser at Watts Capitol, explains. “This could create unintended consequences. There are financial implications of putting money in kids’ names as opposed to a 529. At a high level, 529s are great because once assets are put into 529s, the interest isn’t taxed. You have to spend the money on education; however, given the new rules in 2018, 529s are more valuable because now they can be spent on private school. The benefit of a 529 is that if your child doesn’t need the money, you can change the beneficiary, as long as you are the owner of the account.”
If you create a will to protect your child’s financial future, work with a lawyer and your financial planner to develop the best plan.
Should you merge all your finances? Some? None? A lot will depend on how you and your partner view money and your financial goals.
“Be mindful of putting yourselves on joint credit cards or bank accounts,” Kouzi advises. “I know from research and my years of experience that money issues are a big reason people get divorced. If you don’t have a sense of your spouse’s spending, that’s potentially an issue. You need to have a candid discussion about how you look at money and how you want to handle it.”
These discussions will lead to making the best decisions for you as a couple. Focus on your values, both independently and as partners, to determine what will work. Wilson suggests creating regular date nights during which you discuss your current finances and future goals.
“I see successful couples, meaning those who are working as a team and making financial progress, doing it both ways,” says Wilson. “Some have separate accounts, and some put it all in [one account]. It’s really about trying different things and seeing what works. You will need to decide what’s going to be best with regard to having a budget and sticking to it.”
Remember that your situation is uniquely yours, and your state’s laws are important. Although the advice in this article will help you get started, it is important to discuss your legal options with a lawyer. If you can, include a child psychologist and a financial planner, as well as any other professionals who may be important to your circumstances.
Good luck! Hope this was helpful! Here is another article you might be interested in: “Telling the Kids You’re Remarrying.”
ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, parenting, divorce, food, and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including the Washington Post, Healthline, Paste, Headspace, and more.
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