Over 12 years ago, Nicole and her husband went into their marriage with a prenuptial agreement—and haven’t discussed it since. “It doesn’t affect our financial decisions now,” she says. However, “being open and honest about finances before getting married and all through our marriage has been really important. We are both very involved in all financial decisions.”
The couple both had something they were interested in protecting—a piece of property and investments—and while the monetary value wasn’t equal, the agreement was done respectfully and thoughtfully. “For us, the prenup wasn’t contentious at all,” says Nicole. “It was just about acknowledging what each of us had before starting our marriage.”
In an ideal world, every couple would head into the financial portion of their union with the same logic and prenuptial safety net.
You don’t have to be rich to get a prenup
“Will you marry me?” is one of the most romantic questions a person can be asked. “Will you sign this prenup?” is, historically, one of the least. But the invitation to discuss your financial future together is something that should make people smile instead of flinch.
If someone is requesting that their partner sign a prenup, the stereotype is that there must be a trust issue. The reality, however, is the opposite. Prenups are a positive step—even a necessary step –for a couple to take, as well as a relationship-building tool that can strengthen your union rather than infuse it with doubt. And you don’t have to be rolling in dough to create a prenup either.
“Traditionally, we think of people like celebrities who do prenups because they have a ton of money,” says Kristin M. Lis, family law attorney and founding partner of Smedley & Lis, LLC in Woodbury, New Jersey. And yet for the clients Lis sees, wealth is a relative term. “Perhaps it’s the notion that when you don’t have a great deal of money, every dollar counts, every asset counts,” he says. “Even if it’s a $100,000 home—even if you proceed to ‘commingle’ your assets as of entry into the marriage—it is ‘safe’ no matter how valuable.”
Love and money
Of the couples who head to divorce attorneys every year, finances are often one of the major problems in their marriage. This should come as no surprise—far too many couples neglect to discuss money issues before marrying, and this mistake can eventually undermine the relationship. “The really tough thing about prenups is that no one wants to think about their marriage not working out. You want to be picking out the color of table linens, making a set list for your DJ, and planning the honeymoon, not the demise of a marriage that hasn’t even started,” says Lis.
Not acknowledging or addressing potentially scary financial situations may make some couples feel better because they are keeping their love “free” and “unburdened.” But there is no escaping money ups and downs. “A prenup causes couples to face, discuss, and understand their respective positions on money. It is crucial that they have this understanding before the marriage because the lack of communication often causes problems to arise after the marriage,” says Jennifer Brandt, co-chair of the family law group at Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia.
Forget the prenup “stigma”
A number of recent studies have found that money is the leading cause of stress in relationships, whether you and your partner differ in spending and saving strategies, hide purchases from each other, or lie about the price of items you have bought. Financial “infidelity” and deception can be difficult to overcome. So addressing the obvious could actually be helpful to a union that is focused on love alone.
“I advise clients to think about a prenup the way they would about an insurance policy,” says Brandt. “You buy yourself protection that you hope you will never need, but it certainly helps out if a problem does arise.”
From the perspective of many a divorce attorney, it can be foolish for people who do have considerable assets to choose not to have a prenup. However, the divorce laws of a person’s state can help inform the prenup decision, too. “Is it community property? Equitable distribution? Something else?” asks Lis. It’s vital that you have an attorney review any prenup to make sure it’s consistent with your state’s treatment of marital assets.
Ultimately, each couple must evaluate their financial situation and determine what move is best for them. But don’t let the stigma around prenuptial agreements sway your judgement. The prenuptial contract, at the very least, is simply protection should disaster strike. But more than that, it’s the start of an important conversation you’ll be having with your beloved for many years to come.
Check out these Facebook entries from our readers, who told us their own stories about how doing a #prenupforlove helped their relationship:
For more information, check out the comprehensive Avvo guide to getting a prenup, with information on where to start, creating a draft, consulting an attorney, and more.
In 1987 I was dating a woman who had about $17,000 debt (mostly school loan). I had about $160,000 in assets (home equity, savings and retirement account). This woman's sister also had significant debt and that year married a man with assets that he protected with a prenup. When we married in 1987 in California, we decided not to do a prenup, even though her sister had done it. Her sister's marriage ended after five years, but ours lasted 22 years. My wife initiated divorce in 2009 (I did not want divorce), and we both had a friend who said that we could write a "memo of understanding" to assign the immediate assets and debts (credit card debt, bank accounts, cars, furniture, etc.). I documented my assets beginning the marriage with my wife's divorce attorney and handed him the MOU. The finances of the marriage were quickly assigned to our satisfaction without a prenup. I'm glad we discussed not getting a prenup before we were married.
A serious inquiry into their potential spouse's background may be more useful such as employment history and why previous relationships ended. I am an attorney and my advice to anyone under fifty seeking a prenup would be; ask yourself if you have a trust issue with your potential spouse and take another look at their marriage expectations. Older people with assetts and grandchildren often need a prenup to ensure their grandchildren are protected.