I’m going to say something controversial and, from my perspective, funny as hell.. Marriage is a corporation (okay, partnership if we’re getting technical) and I think that’s a good thing. 

Let me explain. Marriage is an institution of our American society.  We can debate the merits, the challenges and the realities, but it’s a legal structure that is here to stay. The subtext that very few people truly understand before they go down that happily-ever-after aisle is this: Marriage is a LEGAL structure.  

Love, joy, peace, patient, and one big fat legally binding partnership.  

Why does that matter? 

Whatever you want to say about romance, building a life together, learning to love your partner even with his or her blemishes, you can do all that without a legally binding marriage certificate.  The legal framework of marriage is the key designation we all need to understand, because it has long-lasting implications in your financial success (or failure) individually and as a couple.   

Legal Partnerships 

Marriage is a legal structure, much like a corporation. There are many types, S-corps, C-corps, LLCs to name a few, but I’m going to focus on the one that has the best parallel to marriage: a general partnership (or partnership for short).  

Partnerships are legally binding, for-profit entities owned by two or more ‘partners’.  By law, this type of legal relationship assumes the profits, liability (debt), and management of the partnership are divided equally among partners. 

What’s the parallel to marriage?

Legally, marriage looks very similar to a general partnership.  You have many of the same benefits and you have most of the same legal responsibilities.

So bear with me; this is going to get fun.  The following is a list of how partnership and marriage are similar:

  1. You have revenue: It’s called (dual) income in the marriage world
  2. You have cash flow: You have (revenue) income and you have expenditures, ie. rent, groceries, utilities, insurance, etc
  3. You have taxes: (Remember you’re for-profit!)–Your joint income in a marriage is considered taxable by the government. Once you’re married, you have to make the decision to file jointly or choose ‘married filing separately’.  How you file determines your tax brackets and responsibility to the government. 
  4. You have mutually owned assets: Your house, your cars, your *debt*, your furniture
  5. You have profits: Joint assets that grow over time (retirement funds, equity in your house, investments, etc.) 
  6. You re-invest in your partnership: You fund his/her school, s/he funds yours, with the expectation your income (revenue) will grow as a result. Another example is when you sink a lot of money into the renovation of your house (a joint asset).
  7. You have children:  Yes, we are speaking about adorable human beings and not tangible assets, but there is a legal implication between children and marriage regardless.  Until age 18, children are dependents of the marriage, so there is a mutually divided legal responsibility of the partnership to care for the children in the marriage.  
  8. And the kicker: You have liability.  In general partnerships, the other partner is not shielded if one partner defaults on a loan, or makes bad financial choices.  Sorry y’all, but same thing with a marriage. Unless clearly stated, if your partner takes out a loan and can’t pay it back, or uses your retirement portfolio to fund a new business in their name, you are also on the hook for your partner’s debt.  Isn’t marriage fun?

What’s my point?

The romance and joys of marriage are real. Building a life with someone takes a ton of work and patience and also can bring incredible love into your life.  

However, I also believe that if we think about marriage as a partnership, it will encourage us all to pay a bit more attention to it, both emotionally and financially.  If we think of it as a partnership — a business (family) that we are growing which relies on both partners, it gives us the courage to pay attention to the details of the legally binding aspects of a marriage and to be active contributors to the partnership.

How can this help?

This helps because it enhances the value of each persons contribution to the relationship. Money does not becoming the defining factor of ‘who contributes more’, but focuses the conversation around the responsibilities that exist when growing a life together and making a family work. Money is important but cleaning, errands, daily life management, future goal planning, emotional support for each other, children’s education, children’s activities, etc. all dictate the success of the business (family).

Here are the questions to ask yourself before marriage: Love is essential, sex is wonderful, but do I want to build a (legally binding) partnership with this person for the rest of my life? Will s/he be a good co-owner and treat me as an equal partner?  Am I ready to dig deep and play my role as an equal partner, showing up and fighting to make it work?  Have my partner and I discussed a household budget? Do we have similar spending habits? Do we share the same savings goals? Will we keep our financial accounts separate or pool our earnings and savings together?

Conclusion

Everyone knows starting a new business and making it successful is insanely difficult. It takes extraordinary dedication, effort, and determination. As unromantic as it may sound, the truth is, marriage is much like a business or a corporation. It is a financially binding legal agreement.

So, as you plan your wedding, be sure to have a heart to heart with your dearly beloved about your partnership, financially, emotionally and romantically as a married couple. Trust me, this will give you the best shot to live happily ever after.

Next up: Why this analogy gets even better when talking about divorce and marriage.