Having your first child is such a life-altering event that it is hard to imagine what issues may arise after the fact. As a family and divorce lawyer — and a mom — I feel strongly that there are issues that need to be discussed before the arrival of a baby. Do not assume that you and your partner are on the same page, because you may not be. There are four conversations I believe all parents-to-be should have with their significant others before planning a baby.
1. Can we afford a baby?
Babies are expensive. There are upfront costs, nursery furniture and ongoing costs like diapers, formula and daycare. Health insurance premiums may increase, and there may be emergencies that require you to pull money from savings. Compounding the problem is the fact that your household income may decrease because maternity and paternity leave may be unpaid, or one spouse may go part-time or stop work altogether. If you are considering having children, both partners need to be transparent about their income, assets (like IRAs, stocks, etc.), expenses and spending habits. You should work with your spouse to come up with a monthly budget for the combined household income and expenses. If you do not trust your partner enough to share these financial matters, then you should evaluate whether having children with this person is a good idea.
2. What happens if one or both parents die?
While most people know they should have wills and advance medical directives, most people do not think about what their surviving spouse would need immediately in the event of their death. If the spouse who typically pays the bills were to pass, then the other spouse needs to know which bills need to be paid, have access to online accounts to be able to pay them and have access to bank accounts from which these bills are typically paid. Life insurance for both parents is also must. While many primary breadwinners have life insurance, it is equally important for a spouse who does more childcare to also have life insurance, because if that spouse were to die, then there would be increased childcare costs. I recommend talking to a certified financial planner to know just how much life insurance is needed. Finally, you need to talk to your spouse about who you would want to take care of your children in the event that you both died, and then draw up legal documents memorializing this decision.
3. How will household chores be divided?
Because babies and small children require around-the-clock care, tasks like cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, yardwork and pet care can become overwhelming. You need to talk to your spouse about how these tasks will be divided after the baby arrives. Both spouses need to be involved in childcare, and both spouses need to do household chore — regardless of who works more or who stays home with the children. If there is not honest communication about this before having children, and periodically after having children, it is easy to become resentful if you feel your partner is not pulling his or her weight.
4. How much will each parent work?
If one partner wants to stay home with the children, then both spouses need to talk about whether that is financially feasible and how the working parent can still support the stay-at-home spouse to make sure he or she is not overwhelmed or isolated. Ideally, the time to decide whether one parent will be a stay-at-home parent is before the baby’s arrival. This is not a decision to be made when neither parent is sleeping more than 2-hour stretches at a time because it will not be a rational, well-conceived decision. If both parents decide to work, talk about how much both parents will work and what hours they will be working. If both of you will continue working, you need to consider which childcare option — a daycare center, in home daycare, private nanny, or a relative — is best for your family. Additionally, you should discuss how it will be decided who will take off work when the baby is sick, or when daycare closes, and perhaps most importantly, for pediatrician visits.
Having a baby is an exciting decision, but it is also important that you and your partner have open and honest communication about issues that could potentially arise prior to your baby’s arrival. Building a strong foundation with your partner beforehand decreases the likelihood of having to seek out a divorce lawyer, like me, years down the road.
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