3 examples of why every couple needs a prenup

Relationships, Money

As part of the ongoing research and studies from Avvo on modern relationships, AvvoStories asked renowned relationship expert and sexologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz to weigh in on the tough conversations couples need to have for long-term success. Below are some personal examples from Dr. Schwartz on how avoiding one of the tougher conversations—the subject of money—can be destructive, and what can be gained from honest communication. Dr. Schwartz lectures nationally and internationally on relationship topics, women’s issues, parent and child issues, communication between men and women in intimate and work relationships, and maintaining personal and family well-being in today’s world.

As a nation of romantics, we love to talk about the moon, walks on the beach, honeymoons and happily-ever-afters. What we don’t like to talk about is marriage as an institution—one that has legal ramifications that go on well past the happy ceremony itself. Complications about the practicalities of marriage can blindside even the most blissful couples if they don’t face and discuss those realities before tying the knot.

However, contrary to what you might think, talking about money is not an unromantic act. This is a discussion only very intimate people have with each other. You are protecting the marriage by understanding each other while being mature and thoughtful about each other’s welfare. And that enables you to move forward without fear. It’s a lot more impactful than just talking about what kind of alternating family schedule you’ll have on Thanksgiving.

Getting it on paper

A recent Avvo relationship study indicated that people know about prenuptial agreements these days, and approval of them has gone up. But the number of couples who actually have one remains low.  Perhaps that’s because couples often don’t know how to broach a serious money talk. But it doesn’t have to be so hard.  You simply sit each other down and start to plan out your financial future.

Should we have kids? If so, do we want to have a college savings account for our future kids? What kind of lifestyle do we want, and what does that tell us about how many kids we can afford?  What obligations will you have for my kids from a previous marriage? What kind of financial protection does each of us need?  Shall we keep our belongings separate?  What kind of co-mingling of funds do we feel comfortable about?  How much financial privacy do we want? Do we have separate credit cards and how do we discuss debt—and how much are we willing to take on, if any?

I could go on, but the point is: too few couples have these discussions. And even fewer draw up a document to keep themselves honest—which is actually hard to do when memory distorts what both of you said and agreed to years ago.  Leaving this all up in the air can cause much worse arguments later on than anything you might deal with while sitting down to collaborate on a financial life right now.

Let me give three examples—one of them quite personal—about why this is so important.

Sean and Karen: Devil in the details

Sean and Karen are a couple I know who started out in their mid-to-late ‘30s wildly attracted to each other and in love. They talked a lot about money before they got married. Karen had quite a bit of it from a divorce settlement, but did not have a high playing job and the money wasn’t enough to keep her secure for a lifetime. Meanwhile, her soon-to-be husband was very well off and wanted her to be able to travel with him. He promised to support her and so soon she gave up her job and stayed home taking care of her child from a previous marriage that he liked, but did not want to adopt. They agreed, in theory, on certain financial supports.

But when the romance faded twelve years later, the negotiations began about the financial settlement to which they had actually agreed. She thought he would support her forever, no matter what, since she had given up her livelihood for him. He felt he had supported her handsomely during the marriage and that they had agreed to keep their savings separately and not mingle funds. He also felt she spent money frivolously and lavishly, and if she didn’t save enough for her nest egg it wasn’t fair of her to think he would do it. Furthermore, he had never agreed to support her child if the marriage broke up, and refused to do it.

She took him to court for child support, and received a settlement for her child’s education as well as some additional support. They each believed the other had betrayed them—and there were no documents to show what the original intent and specifications had been. The situation went from bad to worse and turned into a very messy, nasty and expensive divorce.

Kazuo and Tia: Tragedy and misunderstanding

Kazuo and Tia, another couple, talked a lot about their finances and came to several mutual agreements, but never legally recorded their discussions. When Tia died quite suddenly from injuries caused in a car accident, she left no documentation. Her husband re-married after two years and did try to carry out what he thought were her wishes—but their adult children didn’t believe that his interpretation was correct. They felt he was unduly influence by his new wife, and that properties, as well as items of sentimental (and real) value, were withheld from them.

Their father, insulted and angry, withdrew from his children. He was sure he remembered correctly and felt emotionally abused by what he now saw as his “greedy” kids. And so a simple lack of documentation caused a break in what had long been a close, loving family.

And finally, a success story…

The last story is mine. I had a 23 year marriage that was great—until it wasn’t. We had a prenup we had created before the marriage, which we amended slightly (known as a “post-nuptial”) when we had kids.  When the marriage ended, we accepted the deal we had made and shook hands on it—and that was that. The divorce went through smoothly.  No acrimony—and we are friends to this day.

It comes down to this: how truly stable and intimate is the relationship? If it’s a problem to talk about finances—if you can’t trust each other enough to talk about how money should be saved, spent, and allocated, both personally and within the marriage—the relationship may not be ready to become legal and binding.

Having a prenup and a financial plan is just like a kind of insurance. We hope we don’t need it, but it provides protection against unforeseen problems. A great marriage, even just a good marriage, will not crumble because of a prenup, nor will a terrible marriage be held together because of the lack of one. Financial discussions before marriage don’t show fear and mistrust—quite the opposite. The ability to have these kinds of discussions and come to satisfying mutual conclusions is a great foundation for your relationship and your marriage.

Learn more about prenups here, and if you’re ready to take the plunge, Avvo legal services offer a number of options to get you started.