The Financial Boundaries of Marital Partnership
The Wall Street Journal recently had an article about how spouses share or don’t share their finances. Not everyone does, but the report argues pooling resources helps families achieve “milestones” and is better overall. The couple who pool funds are not just spending their own money, they are spending their spouse’s money too, and there is “accountability” for making spending decisions that are not sensible.
In the United States, about 23% of all couples keep their finances completely separate, while 43% don’t distinguish. The rest have some accounts together and some separately.
Immersive Partnership and other ideas
Your marriage may not be like your best friend’s marriage. Some view marriage as a social and family partnership but not a “partnership” about money. Others don’t view it as a social or family partnership or an economic partnership. A married couple may not live together and maintain separate sets of children, grandchildren, and social circles.
Then there are the married couples, who see their union as an immersive Partnership that covers every social, family, and economic aspect of each partner’s life. Many people love that kind of marriage. Not everyone does, and that’s okay.
Why Keep it Separate?
First, there is the matter of personal autonomy. Maybe a husband does not want to explain to his wife, after a review of the credit card bill, that he splurged on a giant chocolate ice cream sundae on his way back from work two weeks ago. Perhaps the husband wants to share the same account because he wants to be accountable for where he eats and what he does with the money he and his wife earn.
The second reason may be that you earned it. If a wife wants to buy jewelry with money she earned, send it to her family overseas or purchase real estate, she should be able to do it. In Islam, men must spend on their family’s benefit; women have no such obligation. I have seen some Muslim families that regard their earnings as jointly held while taking no ownership interest in money earned by their wives. Not all husbands interpret their obligation to provide for their family as the same as giving everything to their wives.
Life Has Surprises
Third, not everyone gets married in their early 20s stays married to each other until old age, after which they pass in rapid succession. Marriages end, and it’s often in ways the husband and wife did not expect. A spouse may die early, the couple may divorce, and maybe they would have wanted something more nuanced than sawing everything in half.
Fourth, it may keep people sharp when it comes to financial affairs. I have seen several situations where a widow or widower is completely lost regarding money and finances because the husband or wife handled that. Yes, both spouses can have kitchen table financial discussions, pay bills and make major financial decisions, but in an immersive partnership, one spouse tends to take the lead. The other may not have a clue as to what’s going on.
Guard Against Elder Abuse
Lastly, an immersive marriage partnership can harm family relationships and even be abusive. Marriage is sometimes a vehicle for elder abuse, especially financial elder abuse. A typical scenario is when a widower re-marries. Adult children often suspect the new spouse of coming in for the money, which is sometimes wrong and unfair, but the suspicion is occasionally spot-on. Abusive late marriages are perhaps the biggest fitna I have had to deal with in the world of Estate Planning.
Why Keep it together?
There are also compelling reasons to keep finances together. Many couples start with nothing and build a family and life together. It’s expensive to purchase a home and pay for expenses. One partner may go through a financial setback, a layoff, or a failed business startup; the other can help through tough times.
The married couple can view themselves and their efforts as a 50/50 partnership and organize their economic affairs virtually the same way unmarried business owners may do if they were a partnership.
Islam does not regulate how spouses organize their finances. If the husband wants to buy his wife a Ferrari as a gift, nothing in Islam stops him. If he wants to hand over half his paycheck to his wife, and his wife wants to hand over half her paycheck to her husband, there is nothing wrong with that.
You are separate economic units
For purposes of Islamic Inheritance, you need to be separate economic units. If spouses share, it’s no different from unmarried partners owning a business together.
So say, for example, Aslam and Adil are 50/50 partners in a hardware store; Aslam’s heirs are entitled to shares of inheritance per the Islamic Rules of Inheritance for 50% of the value of the hardware store. If Aslam is married to Bilquis, Aslam’s heirs, including Bilquis, are entitled to inheritance per the Islamic Rules of Inheritance.
Unless either Adil or Bilquis is Aslam’s only heir, under no circumstances should they get everything.
Unfortunately, this happens.
Understand the difference between “partnership” and “everything.”
Unfortunately, one cultural marital expectation in the United States is that the surviving spouse gets everything. Getting everything is not a partnership. If like in the above example, Aslam dies, he has heirs who have rights in Islam. He may have parents, children, and a spouse, who all get their shares as ordained in the Islamic Rules of Inheritance.
While Islam does not regulate how your Partnership works during life, so long as it is halal, Islam most definitely regulates how property is supposed to be distributed after death.
Click here for a 15-minute mini-consultation over zoom with Ahmed Shaikh on the Islamic Estate Planning process.