Money Is Most Troublesome Relationship Issue, Survey Finds

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Billionaire couple Tim and Edra Blixseth recently made headlines because they divorced without controversy; they came to a separation agreement themselves. There were no apparent high-profile attorneys or unwieldy accusations — just plain respect and rationale.

Such civility about money isn't the norm for most couples. In a survey of more than 3,000 people between the ages of 18 and 40, money is the No. 1 issue they argue over. In fact, the "Can't Buy Me Love" survey from online payment service PayPal found a majority of people went as far as to hide purchases from their spouses. "Money trumps sex and household chores as the most troublesome relationship issue," it found.

The more money people have doesn't mean more battles over it though. People fear the loss of money, no matter the amount.

Still, the now infamous case in Connecticut of GE Capital's then chief executive Gary Wendt and Lorna Jorgenson Wendt left many a family breadwinner shaking in their boots. There, Wendt offered his wife $10 million to settle her 1995 divorce petition. But she refused and claimed her work supporting him contributed to his business success and therefore she was entitled to half his estate. The divorce turned nasty and a judge eventually decided that Jorgenson Wendt was entitled to more.

It wasn't just the numbers that made for such wide eyes. That case also set about implanting "asset protection" thoughts in rich people's minds. Soon after the divorce case was settled in the late 1990s, I attended a conference for high-net-worth individuals in the Bahamas. The case was the source of cocktail chatter, and the panel on asset protection was standing room only.

Jorgenson Wendt also helped to heighten interest in asset protection when she took her proceeds and founded The Equality in Marriage Institute to help those "taking care of business" in marriage. The institute was shuttered last year but it claims to have helped hundreds of thousands of men and women better manage their marriage.

Part of that help included advising people to get a premarital agreement or contract before marriage.

"Remember, marriage is the biggest social contract you will ever make. It should be accompanied by a legal contract to make sure that your marriage will be a 50-50 partnership. Even if you think you don't have assets today, it's likely you will down the road," she cautioned.

In fact, premarital and post-nuptial agreements have become en vogue with the masses, with Arlene Dubin, author of "Prenups for Lovers," estimating that as many as 20 percent of couples marrying have them.

Valentine's Day may be an odd time to ponder divorce planning. But if you're upset at the fact that Valentine's Day has become another de facto Christmas, with de rigueur gift-giving, don't let it fester into something uglier — try and have a healthy discussion about money.

If two people with $2 billion can figure it out it an afternoon, you can too.

A new way to leave

The "Can't Buy Me Love" survey found find that both men and women hid purchases from their partners in nearly equal numbers. Face money troubles, don't hide from them. Those types of secret Valentines we don't need any more of.

"We are only a couple of generations into dual-income households as the norm. Since this is still a fairly modern lifestyle change, we don't have well-worked-out internal scripts for handling money arguments when they arise," says Carmen Wong Ulrich, who wrote the survey report for PayPal.

But the Blixseths may have just provided one.

"We have always tried to live our lives with dignity and respect," Tim was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying. "We wanted to do the same in divorce."

And for the record: She reportedly kept their 420-acre estate, their dogs, a Rolls Royce, a place in Mexico and access to their three private jets. He reportedly got to keep another house they have in Mexico, a residence in Idaho, his land businesses, as well as private jet privileges.

They spent a single afternoon in the Beverly Hills Hotel, dividing it all up with just two notebooks and a bottle of wine, according to the Journal.

Most importantly, however, they talked and didn't hide anything from each other.

Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.