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Love, honor and share a bank account

When a couple joins hearts and hands in marriage, they're also joining their finances.

The first expression of that used to be a joint checking account, but that arrangement is no longer automatic. As couples marry later in life, have their own approaches to money or have existing financial obligations, such as child support or loans, they often prefer separate bank accounts.

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Still, if couples can't share their money in a checking account, it's probably a signal that something's wrong in the relationship. That's the word from many financial experts. Even a divorce lawyer who draws up prenuptial agreements agrees.

"You're entering into a partnership," says Mitchell Karpf, a partner in the Miami law firm of Young, Berman, Karpf and Gonzalez. "It's like saying one of the partners can't sign checks. That's not very nice."

Cash and commitment
"Of couples I have counseled, the greatest success, both in marital happiness and sustainability, occurs when assets are commingled upon marriage," says Sharon Durling, author of "A Girl and Her Money."

Durling recalls a party attended by three middle-aged couples married for only a few years. They all agreed that commingling assets represented their lifetime commitment to each other and was essential to the success of their marriages.

Their trick for success, Durling says, is "talk, talk, listen, listen and talk."

In the strictest sense, the easiest method is to put both paychecks into one account and pay everything out of it. You have one checkbook and one person is responsible for paying the bills.

Separate but equal
Some couples opt for hybrid finances. They each open a separate, personal account as well as a joint account they use to pay shared expenses.

That's how it works for Mark and Denise Kuhn of Secaucus, N.J., who got married in their early 40s. It was a first marriage for both of them, but they'd had a lot of years to learn how to handle their finances. Each kept existing individual checking accounts.

They also opened a joint savings account and a joint checking account. Money from the joint checking account pays all the household bills.

Denise says they figure out a budget, right down to their weekly church donation and grocery bill. Then each writes a check from the individual checking accounts and deposits it into their joint checking account so there's enough to cover the bills. Entertainment expenses are generally split fifty-fifty.

If one of them wants something more personal, such as new clothes or manicures, those are paid with cash or out of their personal checking accounts. "We're not experts," says Denise, "but it certainly works well."

Next: " talk to a lawyer before you ..."
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