NEW YORK (AP) -- After the hearts and flowers of Valentine's Day, perhaps it's time to start talking about the dollars and cents of your relationship.
''Most of us were brought up never to talk about money, to consider it the other person's very private business,'' said Corinna Barnard, a senior editor for the women's Internet site ivillage.com. ''It's the last bastion of Victorianism.''
But the fact is, love doesn't conquer all. Nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and experts say money problems are often a major factor.
''If there was a way to wave a magic wand and make one change in the way people court and marry, my vote would be that before they say 'I do,' they learn a great deal more about the way each other expects to live,'' said Lee Borden, a divorce specialist who runs the Alabama Family Law Center in Birmingham.
He believes most young couples have trouble getting to the nitty-gritty questions: How much is appropriate to spend on a vacation? What level of savings is right for us? Should we pool everything we make, or are we going to have ''his'' money and ''her'' money? How do we go about making decisions for major purchases?
''I think conventional wisdom has it that it's a shortage of money that causes disputes,'' Borden said. ''The real marriage breaker is when people have different expectations about money. They may be very wealthy, but have very different expectations about how money should be accumulated and how it should be spent.''
Eleanor Blayney, a certified financial planner in McLean, Va., acknowledges that broaching the subject of money can be difficult, not only for people who are dating but for those who are married.
''Our attitudes about money are formed in our childhood,'' she said. ''They're difficult to articulate, sometimes difficult even to recognize -- but they're very powerful.''
High debt is among the issues that have arisen in recent years, she said, noting that many young people owe thousands of dollars on students loans, personal loans and credit cards.
''It may not sound very romantic, but I don't think you'd be remiss in asking to see your fiance's credit report,'' she said.
Couples also need to resolve how they will make major money decisions, she added.
''With more traditional couples, typically one is the decision maker and the other isn't, and that works reasonably well because they're not bumping into each other,'' Blayney said. ''Now, more women are working and on their own longer. They're more apt to come to relationships with their own thoughts and processes for managing money. It's harder when both are used to being decision makers.''
She suggests it wouldn't be a bad idea for courting couples to sit down with a financial planner or a professional counselor who can give some impartial advice.
There's still debate about the use of prenuptial agreements -- legal pacts signed before marriage on the rules that will govern property, income and expenses. Both Borden and Blayney believe they can be helpful if one person has significantly more wealth than the other or if one wants to segregate money for, say, children from a previous marriage.
But as Borden puts it: ''Prenuptial agreements are like the weather. We talk about them, but don't do much about them.''
Barnard, who is the managing editor for the Money Life channel at ivillage.com, suggests that some ''talking points'' could help couples get into a meaningful discussion about money:
-- What are your assets and liabilities?
-- How's your credit rating?
-- Do you want children?
-- How was money handled in your family?
-- What are your financial goals?
''We think a lot of things in a relationship are more important than money,'' Barnard said. ''But we have to keep in mind that relationships can fall apart because of money.''
On the Net:
Borden's site: www.divorceinfo.com
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