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In this personal video essay, one woman shares what she wishes she'd known before getting married, especially after witnessing friends go through divorces.

Through bi-weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Video by Grace Lee

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[PAPERS SHUFFLING] I'm in my early 30s, and I've been happily married for four years.

I went into my marriage for what were, in my opinion, good reasons. My husband and I were and are in love with each other-- yes-- but we also cohabited well, shared many of the same values from remaining in the non-car dependent city we live in to our relationship with our careers to our visions for retirement, and ultimately, we weer very compatible when it came to financial planning.

But in that time period, I've also seen more people close to me go through divorces or other life-altering breakups, many of which, I'm sure, were brought about by the pandemic, and how it forced all of us to reassess our lives and values. And I've seen that, even in the best of cases, divorce can bring out the worst in people, and the financial implications can be surprising, no matter how well-prepared you were from the beginning. While I have no desire to get divorced, I can honestly say that I've learned the most about marriage since being married.

And there were things that I was really naive about beforehand, especially after seeing loved ones go through contentious divorce battles. Here are three considerations I think more people should talk about before deciding to get married. Number one-- even if you keep your finances separate, the state will see them as combined.

Of course, this mostly applies to people without ironclad prenups, but I think some people are under the assumption that keeping finances separate in a marriage means they can be kept separate in a divorce, and I've seen that, that's just not the case. It surely depends on your own state's laws, but where I live, in New York, I know that it doesn't matter where you kept your money or how you managed it during your marriage. The state views all of and your spouse's assets as shared.

Also, I personally didn't understand how settlements work until I saw a friend deal with paying one to her now ex-husband. Basically, there's an intense equation used to calculate who owes which partner money, in order to make up for the drop in quality of life they will experience by not being married to this person anymore. Typically, that means the higher earner will pay a settlement to the lower earner, but there are a lot of other factors that are considered, like, each of your total assets and debts, your current age and employment status, and whether or not one spouse was at fault for the divorce, depending on the state you live in.

And beyond that, with lawyer fees and everything, it's just really, really expensive. Number two-- not getting married can be just as intentional of a decision as getting married. We view married couples as having it more together in their relationships, but that doesn't mean it's true.

It's impossible to know everything that goes on in a marriage, unless you're the one in it. I used to be a bit more judgmental of couples who stayed together for years without getting married, thinking it was a sign they were scared to commit to being serious about their relationship, but in truth, deciding not to get married when you're not 100% sure It's what you want can be brave, especially in the face of societal or family expectations. I think, it is fully possible to decide that you love someone and want to spend your life with them, but know that you are not the kind of person who wants to entangle all of their finances with someone else.

We look at marriage as the ultimate expression of love, but really, it is an imperfect institution that's right for some people, but not everyone. Number three-- you don't actually have to get married. It can't be denied that there are financial and societal benefits to getting married.

From my own experience, I couldn't get on my husband's health insurance plan until we were married, thanks to his company's policy. We ended up saving more money on taxes than we would have if we weren't married, thanks to his tax bracket being lowered. And our relationship is simply treated with more respect by certain conservative family members than it was when we were simply dating or living together.

When my husband ended up being in the hospital amid a COVID outbreak, being married made it possible for me to visit him, But there are some benefits we associate with marriage that can also simply come from long-term commitment. Take life insurance. You can name almost any person as your beneficiary, depending on where you live, and feel assured that they'll be taken care of financially should the worst happen to you, regardless of whether or not you are married.

You can also open joint account without being married and name someone in your will without being married to them. I also cannot understate the value that having a long-term partner has added to my life. To feel secure and knowing you have a person who is your teammate and supports you and being your best self, and vise versa, is a huge emotional safety net, but it's not something you achieve by signing a legal document.

You can build it all on your own. While I feel lucky that learning all of this has solidified that marriage was the right option for me, I should have known all of these things before making such a huge decision because everybody should. Most importantly, I knew that divorce was always expensive, but only in the most nebulous, non-specific of terms.

Spelling out the realities of what it looks like and actually costs is something, I think, everyone getting married needs to hear.