Checking Accounts Without Tears

No matter which way you decide to divide the checkbook, there should be three laws for checking accounts in a good marriage.

1. The Law of Autonomy: In this case, each spouse is allowed to use a certain amount of money each month however s/he desires, no questions asked. Save it, spend it, donate it, chop it up for confetti on New Year’s Eve. In this deal, the partner says nothing–they don’t even get to eye roll. You both agree on the dollar amount, and you’re off to the races.

2. The Sunlight Law: Remember U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s quote about the benefits of openness and transparency? His belief was that, better even than Scrubbing Bubbles, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” And that transparency is just what you’re after to prevent a breakdown in communication. So if each spouse has individual accounts or credit cards, then each spouse will duly make those checkbooks and other accounts readily available to the other at any time.

3. Law of Equal Say: In this scenario, each spouse holds an equitable interest in dollars earned and dollars spent. And, no, I don’t mean every dollar–micromanaging like that will doom your budget plans, and possibly your marriage, too. He shouldn’t need to account for the extra bag of blowpops he bought, nor should she need to justify the extra Haagen Daaz splurge that she already feels badly enough about. But do discuss big purchases before they are made.  And that means that you’ll first need to define what constitutes “big.”

For next time, maybe give a thought to how you might advise couples on dividing financial responsibilities–and feel free to weigh in.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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