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Getting married? Consider what will happen if it doesn't work.

Washington state couples who are on the verge of marriage are wise to prepare realistically for the possibility that their unions will not work. Although it is not easy to discuss divorce at the beginning of a marriage, the complexity of financial realities today requires at least a very comprehensive discussion about money.

Couples should thoroughly discuss finances before getting married, even if they are not going to draft a prenuptial agreement. Topics include debt, retirement accounts, life insurance, attitudes about spending and saving. The question of where to live is also highly relevant to a discussion of finances.

Couples should communicate early and regularly regarding money management. Each individual needs to take an active role in the family finances so that he or she understands his or her respective financial situation in the event of divorce.

It is a good idea for each person to keep records of assets they bring into the marriage to ensure equitable distribution in the event that the marriage fails. In the event of a divorce, it can be difficult to get old statements showing pre-marriage account balances, and keeping these copies in a safe place can help prove that an individual owned assets prior to marriage.

Experts also recommend that each person maintain his or her own access to credit. Income can decrease significantly following divorce, potentially making it harder to obtain credit.

Couples should also make sure to have both spouses' names on all marital accounts, so that each spouse has access to money earned while married. Having access to money for living expenses can help divorcing couples stay out of court.

Experts also strongly advise that couples who have children purchase life insurance for each parent. In the event that one spouse dies, the other parent will be in a better financial position to care for the kids.

Divorce rates are lower now than they have ever been. Still, approximately 10 percent of all marriages break up within five years and approximately 25 percent of all marriages end within 10 years. Although every newly married couple wants to believe that their union will last, the statistics indicate that for a certain number of people, this will not be the case. Given the fact that divorce is still quite common, couples are wise to structure their finances accordingly.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Easing the sting of divorce," June 15, 2012

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