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“Could I get your phone number? And your net worth statement?”

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO RICK’S COLUMN: Download financial_inequality.mp3

“Could I have your phone number?” That isn’t the most creative line to use when you’re interested in getting to know a member of the opposite sex, but it’s certainly straightforward. You will either get the number, or you won’t.

But here is a line that may assure you of never getting the number. “Could I have a copy of your most recent net worth statement?” How unromantic is that?

Yet, hard as the question may be to ask, the answer to it is important. A marriage between two people who are unequal financially can be asking for trouble.

One way to address the problem is through a prenuptial agreement. This is especially important in a second marriage, where there may be “my” kids, “your” kids, and sometimes “our” kids. Sorting out assets and doing some clear legacy planning are important.

Even in a first marriage, a prenuptial agreement is often wise if one spouse has significantly more assets than the other. It can put clarity and intention to the saying, “But dear, you know I am not marrying you for your money.” It can also turn a warm and delightful romance into a seemingly cold business transaction.

There is another question, however, that should be considered well before the relationship is at a point where a prenuptial agreement is even an issue. That is, “Why am I in a financially unequal relationship in the first place?”

Okay, I realize I am about to suffer the wrath of every romantic in the world. Ironically, that includes myself. In the past I would have been the first person to say that when it comes to love, money doesn’t matter. Today, I am not so sure.

I’ve had several clients express resentment and fear when they’ve found themselves in a relationship with someone who is a financial unequal. Take the case of Jill, who inherited a sizeable amount from her parents when they were killed in a car accident. Educated and responsible, she found herself managing an estate of ten million dollars. Enter Brandon. He was a happy-go-lucky free spirit who had neither a dime to his name nor a job. Still, he was charming, and he won Jill’s heart.

They dated. They traveled the world—on her money. Eventually, Brandon proposed marriage. Something kept Jill from agreeing. Brandon continued to bring up the topic, but she continued to hold back. Finally she sought advice. Who did she talk to? Her pastor? A therapist? No, her financial planner.

What she told me was that she wanted to marry Brandon, but she felt uncomfortable about their financial inequality. Was he just “gold digging?” As we talked, she admitted feeling angry and used, less because of his relative poverty than because he didn’t have a job. She also discovered a pattern in her life of attracting men who needed to be mothered or in some way taken care of. As a result of our conversation, she engaged a counselor who helped her further explore her issues with relationships and also with money.

Eventually, Jill broke off the relationship with Brandon. Her stated goal in the future is to date men who are her peers. Will that mean she asks for their net worth statements on the first date? I doubt it. She isn’t necessarily looking for a man who has financial assets equal to her own. She does want someone who is responsible and capable of taking care of himself, someone who clearly doesn’t need her for her money. Her intention is to become involved with a man who is more of an equal in every way: emotionally, physically, spiritually, and yes, financially.

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