Rethinking Prenuptial Agreements
By: Cristin M. Lowe
Unromantic. Dooms the marriage before it begins. Shows a lack of trust. Assumes there will be a divorce. Many people refuse to enter into premarital agreements, commonly referred to as prenups for the above-stated reasons. Others think that because they are beginning their marriage with few to no assets, that a prenup will be of no benefit to them. Regardless of why you might not be too keen on entering into a legal contract prior to walking down the aisle, consider this major benefit that may ultimately save your marriage: it forces you to talk about your future.
If you intend to be a stay-at-home parent, a pre-nuptial agreement will take this into consideration. Many people today are forced into poverty because their spouse cut them off after filing for divorce. The average American knows that in this current economy, getting a job isn’t exactly easy. Think about how difficult it is for the person who has stayed at home for the past 12 years taking care of the kids and hasn’t worked during that time to find employment. Agreeing in advance about how to divide up assets earning during marriage or spousal support (alimony) can protect both parties from an unreasonable support award. Support laws are geared towards both parties working full-time, and when one spouse has not worked, this often times creates a hardship on both spouses when it comes to support orders. For the payee, it usually isn’t enough, and for the payor, that person may be faced with losing 40% of his or her net pay.
Discussing your finances, even if you intend to have a two-income household, also sets up your expectations for the future and allows you to understand the other person’s financial priorities and spending habits. People who live together prior to marriage tend to have already established financial arrangements. Often times, one party expects the arrangements to either change or remain the same after marriage, and it’s not unusual for the other person to expect the opposite. For those who will begin living together after marriage, suddenly combining finances and being accountable to someone else can be a difficult transition.
The engagement period might be stressful with wedding planning and the anticipation of combining families. Yet it is nothing compared with losing a loved one, giving a speech, moving, or suffering financial hardships—all commonly associated with divorce (having to spend significant periods of time away from your children, speaking to a judge in open court, losing the family residence, and trying to stretch the same amount of money between two households instead of one). While it’s certainly not romantic, discussing these difficult topics now and negotiating the “nuts and bolts of marriage” while you’re in love and happy will help you avoid angry and bitter fights later on down the line. Being able to successfully navigate this difficult issue should give you quite a bit of hope and confidence in your ability to work through future difficult issues in the upcoming years.
That being said, if you’re going to go through the effort of drawing up a prenuptial agreement, make sure that you do it correctly. This isn’t a process that can be rushed or signed at the rehearsal dinner. Make sure that each of you provides a full financial disclosure to the other, even if you think that the other already knows everything about your assets and debts. And perhaps most importantly, seek out independent and competent family law attorneys who take the time to really understand what your goals and intentions are.