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Solving debt issues may reduce divorce risk for couples

Not many couples seeking a divorce in Texas cite money problems as their main reason for splitting. Even so, a Couples & Money survey conducted by a financial services company notes that more than half of all couples begin relationships with existing debt, and 40 percent say this burden ultimately has a negative impact on their partnership. Couples also tend to disagree over who is responsible for the marital debt. If paying down debt is a priority, partners often experience issues with lack of communication that may further compound problems.

Squabbles about money matters are also a leading predictor of divorce. Part of the problem may be not being fully aware of debt obligations. In fact, the Federal Reserve estimates that Americans underestimate their student debt by 25 percent and credit card debt by nearly 40 percent. Debt-related behaviors may also contribute to financial stress during a marriage. For instance, some couples might have credit card payments so high that they worry about meeting basic expenses while others sometimes splurge in an effort to resolve marital troubles.

Couples may be able to nip debt issues in the bud by living within their standard of living. For some partners, this sometimes means foregoing the desire to keep up appearances and set realistic goals. As for paying down joint debt, common options include the so-called "snowball" method, which means tackling the smaller obligations first. The "avalanche" approach involves dealing with larger debts first to save on interest payments. Some couples with serious money woes also benefit from couple's therapy or input from a financial planner to improve financial management efforts and resolve conflicts.

In a high-asset divorce, where both couples have significant debt obligations, conflicts may be minimized or avoided if an attorney-drafted prenup or postnuptial agreement exists. In some situations, such documents may even ease the type of marital stress that sometimes leads to divorce if a lawyer drafts them in a way that requires both parties to disclose existing assets and liabilities. Ground rules can also be established for such things as who's responsible for what debt.

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