The Romance of Prenuptial Agreements
by Jane Haskins, Esq.
Which is more romantic: a candlelight dinner, a box of chocolates, or a prenuptial agreement?
Dinner and chocolates sound like a lot more fun, but a prenup is actually a great way to establish intimacy and trust. Before you sign a prenup, you have to talk honestly about money—what you have, what you owe, and what is important in the future. This sets the stage for openness throughout your marriage, making you better equipped to resolve conflicts and weather tough times.
We aren't rich. Why would we want a prenup?
Celebrity prenups get a lot of publicity, but prenuptial agreements aren't just for the rich and famous. Many couples overlook the fact that marriage is a financial partnership, almost as if you were going into business together. When you go through the process of preparing a prenup, you gain a better understanding of the legal side of marriage and property, and you have an opportunity to talk openly with your partner about your financial situation and each of your approaches to money.
A prenup specifies who your money, property, and debts will belong to if you ever split up. It can also say whether, or how much, alimony will be paid. A prenup can cover just about any aspect of your financial life, except for child support. With a prenup in place, you can feel secure about your finances and, if you ever do split up, your divorce is likely to go much more smoothly. A prenup can be especially helpful for:
- Anyone who has accumulated money, property, and investments before marriage, or who expects an inheritance. Prenups can establish boundaries between what belongs to each spouse and what belongs to the two of you as a couple.
- Small business owners. Without a prenup, you could end up giving your spouse half the value of your business if you split up.
- Couples who have, or plan to have, children. A prenup can address issues like one parent staying home with the children instead of working, or protecting savings set aside for college. If you have children from a previous relationship, a prenup can protect any money and property you have set aside for them.
- Couples who plan to get more education. A prenup can deal with the sticky question of what happens when you put your spouse through college, only to have the marriage break up when it's supposed to be your turn.
A family lawyer can prepare a prenup for you, and state law often requires that your fiancé has a separate lawyer review it and make sure it is in his or her best interest. Prenups don't have to be forever—some contain “sunset clauses" that allow parts of the agreement to expire after a certain number of years.
How do I bring up the subject of a prenup?
It's normal to worry that your future spouse will be upset if you suggest a prenup. Experts suggest you start the conversation early and ease into it—don't wait until a couple of weeks before the wedding.
You can start by discussing finances generally, to get a better sense of what you each earn, as well as your savings and debts. Then you can transition to talking about the future, including the “what ifs" of career, family, and dividing property and paying alimony.
The prospect of divorce is an uncomfortable topic, but you can explain that this kind of planning is no different than buying life insurance or preparing a will. You hope you won't need your will anytime soon, and you hope you'll never need to look at your prenup again. But, if you do, your planning will have given you some control over what happens in your divorce, instead of leaving everything to a judge.
A prenup can seem threatening because it forces you to expose your vulnerabilities. But the discussions that go along with it can strengthen your relationship and help you to be better—and more romantic—financial partners in the years to come.