6 December 2012

Uganda: Should Married Couples Share a Bank Account?

There is nothing that bothered me during our marriage counselling like the topic of finances. For someone who was used to being independent financially, the last thing I expected to hear from the counsellor is that marriage would require us to share details about our finances.

This put me on edge. How could I tell my partner how much I earn? What if she trails every little detail of my expenditures? As a man, you'll always have some things you want to spend on that your partner might not approve of.

Imagine going out with friends over the weekend and then she notices your account is Shs 100,000 short! Honestly, I never wanted to explain every little detail about my expenditure because I am very comfortable with the "what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours" approach.

Sharing accounts sounded more like a recipe for conflict. Marriages have broken up due to simple financial conflicts. Yet for our counsellor, Rev Hannington Suubi of St Peter's Church in Jinja, it didn't matter whether we were choosing to have separate accounts or joint accounts; we simply needed to open up on how much we earned, and how we intended to spend the money.

Rev Suubi's justification is that financial conflicts are one of the biggest causes of divorce. So, whether one person is a spendthrift and the other is a saver, it is important to understand your partner's financial habits.

The reverend says he keeps a joint bank account with his wife as a unifying factor. "We believe that when you get married, you become one, and money is a key area where this is lived out.

There is no 'yours, mine and ours' but only 'ours.' And it has worked for us. But as you know, what works for one may not work for another," he explained.

Rev Suubi says by opening up on your finances, you are agreeing on your hopes, dreams and goals together.

However, Ruth Matoya, a counselling psychologist with Healing Talk Counselling Services, says it doesn't matter whether a couple chooses to have joint or separate accounts.

"What is important is transparency, accountability and trust because we have seen people who choose joint accounts but because they are not transparent and accountable, they end up abusing it," she says.

Many couples today have a joint account to pay household expenses or save for a particular project. But they also maintain separate accounts for discretionary spending. This provides spouses with more autonomy towards spending their money.

For example, if you want to surprise your spouse with a gift, you don't want to make a request to tap the joint account.

Lawrence Bategeka, a policy analyst and acting Principal Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), Makerere University, takes marriage as a business. "If you are spouses, you are business partners, then there is no problem sharing accounts," he says. However, because money usually causes problems in marriages, he advises that each partner should run their own account as long as it's for the good of the family.

But it's Randy Kessler, founding partner of Kessler & Solomiany, a respected law firm in domestic relations, who sums up this debate well on www.foxbusiness.com:

"It's easier for a divorce if you keep your money separate, but it's better for a marriage if everything's in one pot."

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