When a Single Mom Marries an Older Man...

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So you're a single mom and in love with an older man-- the classic May-December relationship. His children are grown and on their own.  Your children are much younger and still at home.  He proposes, you accept.  You're in love.  He's wonderful.   He's retired.  You're still working.  You envision a life of happiness and bliss, so you begin planning both the wedding and the life you will share with this man of your dreams. 

As difficult as it may be, you cannot lose your practical perspective.  No one goes into a marriage thinking of divorce, but the statistics are not optimistic when it comes to the success of a second marriage.  As a single mother, you must protect yourself and your children.  It is not an option to turn your head, cross your fingers, and hope everything will just work itself out.  Some of the things discussed below are issues that may arise when you are engaged to a man who is already established and retired before you get married.

 

wedding limo
Image: Richard Wiley via Flickr

It is so important to stop and breathe.  Look at your long term goals.  Figure out what hurdles you may need to overcome.  What are some of the big life events that will be occuring in the next 5 years?  10 years? 20 years?

Let's think about living arrangements. If you both own your homes, is he willing to sell his home and move in with you so your children are not uprooted from their school, social activities, and friends?  If not, can you and your children move to his home?  Would that affect your children's visitation with their father(s)? Are there divorce rules that prevent you from moving beyond a certain number of miles from your children's dad? 

What about college?  Your fiancé's children already have their college education and are on their own.  But is your fiancé now willing to contribute to your children's college educations?  Will your combined income preclude your children from scholarships, grants, loans or assistance they may have otherwise been eligible for?  Will his separate assets be calculated into the aid available to your chidren even if he does not contribute to their education expenses?

What about your assets?  Depending on your state laws, if your fiancé is retired when you get married, it is very likely that his pension is his own separate property.  You may have no legal entitlement to a percentage of his pension.  But if you are still working and contributing to a pension plan during the marriage, guess what?  In the event of a divorce, a part of your pension will likely be considered marital property and he may be entitled to receive a percentage of it.  If he sells his home before the marriage, the income will be his separate property.  If he moves into your home, he may have a legal interest in your house because of home improvements made during the marriage that increase the value of your property.  Are you willing to put his name on the deed to your house?  If not, how does he feel about that? 

Taxes?  Will your combined income put you in a higher tax bracket?  If so, is that okay with both of you?

Lastly, think about the estate. Since your fiancé is much older than you, it is likely he will predecease you. What will your estates look like?  Is everything given to the surviving spouse?  If so, what guarantees the children of the deceased spouse will be taken care of and included in the surviving spouse's subsequent estate?  Will those children be cut out completely? Will one spouse's children receive a disproportinate share of the estate because one spouse had greater assets prior to the marriage?  Will the children of both sides and the surviving spouse all receive equal shares of the estate? 

I don't want to be a killjoy, but these are just a few thought provoking questions about very real life events that are easily overlooked in the initial joy of becoming engaged and planning a wedding. Use this as a starting point for your conversation on how these and other issues should be approached.  Almost all of these issues can be settled and resolved with a prenuptual agreement and some estate planning.  It sounds terrible to enter into a marriage with divorce and separation on your mind prior to tying the knot, but as a single mom, you must protect yourself and your children from future financial disaster. 

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