Should You Wed for Money Rather Than Love?

Mutual love is the ideal, but material security has also been a marital motivation since the beginning of time.

Q: I am a young widow with three children and very limited earning potential. My late husband was not much of a provider, and his death has left us in very difficult straits. I've been dating a man who is very well-off and is also very kind. He is crazy about me and my kids and wants to marry me. I am not in love with him, but I like and respect him and we have interests in common. I am hoping my fondness for him will grow over time. He could really improve my children's prospects in life. Would it be unethical of me to marry him?

Not necessarily. Your primary ethical obligation is to be honest with him about your feelings and primary motivation for marrying him. And you must be honest with yourself about whether you believe you can be faithful to him in marriage. If he still wants to marry you after this discussion, good for you. Perhaps he has the confidence to believe that you will indeed grow to love him -- or perhaps he shares your practical views on the union.

But don't be surprised if he suggests a prenuptial agreement as a hedge against the possibility that you won't make a sincere effort to make the marriage work and are just looking for a big financial score. For a prenup to be legally enforceable in the event of divorce or death, it should be entered into voluntarily and with no time pressure (that is, concluded well before a wedding date is set and announced). There must be full disclosure of each party's financial situation, and each of you must be represented by separate legal counsel.

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Material security has been a major marital motivation for some women -- and some men, too -- since the beginning of time. Such considerations were once deemed perfectly reasonable in Western society, and they still are in many other cultures, where marriages and dowries are negotiated by parents with minimal input from the bride and groom. Mutual love is the best basis for marriage, but it could be argued that romance alone -- if not accompanied by compatibility of interests, values and mutual need -- is given too much weight today in the choice of a life mate.

Send your own money-and-ethics question to Editor in Chief Knight Kiplinger.

Knight Kiplinger
Editor Emeritus, Kiplinger

Knight came to Kiplinger in 1983, after 13 years in daily newspaper journalism, the last six as Washington bureau chief of the Ottaway Newspapers division of Dow Jones. A frequent speaker before business audiences, he has appeared on NPR, CNN, Fox and CNBC, among other networks. Knight contributes to the weekly Kiplinger Letter.