Dear Christine, A Reader in Rochester

  • Posted on July 9, 2018 at 10:12 am

Hi Dr. Christine, My partner and I have been together 19 years and overall we’re both happy together. Lately, though, I noticed she is asking me to pay the utility bills she always pays, saying she has no money. I pay a set, agreed upon amount for rent and living expenses, and we both do the chores and shopping. She does the upkeep and maintenance on the house, which is in her name only. She was burned in a prior relationship and she has always said she will not ever consider adding me to the deed. I’m confused because she has a good job and makes more money than I do, and I don’t know why she wouldn’t have money for the bills she’s used to paying regularly. I don’t think she’s gambling or using drugs, but I can’t figure out what is going on. Any suggestions? A Reader in Rochester.

Dear Reader: You raise several important issues. We gays and lesbians do not have access to the legal rights that married people get through their wedding license, such as joint home ownership or rights of survivorship to a house, should the owning partner die. We also cannot get half of the partner’s retirement pay if there is a divorce after 20 years, or any social security from our partner’s retirement. To get any legal protection, we must be proactive and hire a lawyer to draw up legal paperwork to cover most of these inequities, and even then we may end up in court. Your partner is entitled to keep the house in her name only, and many gays and lesbians do that, rather than sign a Quit Claim deed to add their partner to the deed. When someone gets burned financially by a destructive end to a relationship, it can be impossible to keep what is fairly one’s own at the break up.
It’s appropriate, to plan for a break up while new in a relationship, madly in love and wanting only the best for each other, though it’s never to late to renegotiate those boundaries. What matters is do you feel emotionally and financially safe with your partner? So, communication and sharing information is important. Just because you are partners doesn’t mean that there’s no privacy. You don’t have to share everything you think about and have with anyone else. However, there needs to be enough information shared to protect trust in each other.
There’s no right or wrong way to set up a partnership. Some couples do not join their bank accounts, others do. Some have separate personal accounts, but both contribute to a household account for living expenses, utilities, food, etc. How much each partner contributes depends your agreement of what is fair. If you earn half of what your partner does, should you then contribute 1/3 of the expenses, or 1/2? A fair case can be made for either one. Some partners are open about their personal finances, and some aren’t. Again, there’s no right or wrong. But there does need to be an agreement of how money is to be handled, and who is responsible for what and when? If one has contributed X dollars over 19 years, at what point is there enough trust for the home owner include the partner on the deed, or at least set up legal rights of survivorship? And what happens if either or both of your circumstances change? Who is then responsible for what? This needs to be an ongoing conversation as the relationship continues, to update your agreements with each other as the relationship grows and changes, or if it begins to fall apart.
Resentment comes from simply pay extra bills without getting further information. I encourage you to ask your partner to dialogue with you about finances. Whatever her response, you will gather valuable data about where you each stand with each other. Perhaps something has changed, and then the boundaries need to change too. Good luck

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067

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