Marriage is hard. You may love the person you intend to marry, but no matter the strength of your feelings, you may eventually find it impossible to live with them. Few people go into a marriage with the intent to divorce. You and your partner may genuinely want to create a life together. That is why you should both sign a prenuptial agreement before you get married.
The exchange of wedding vows is a deeply personal and, for some people, religious experience. It a ceremonial affair that involves your family, friends, and others you have invited to the wedding. In law, however, marriage is a formal contract; it is the joining of estates. Your assets will be merged with those of your partner. And if you divorce, they will be divided evenly, no matter whose estate was larger before you entered the marriage contract.
A prenuptial agreement allows you to neutralize the question of money. If you both entered the relationship for love and companionship, then it is better for you both to ring-fence the wealth you accumulated before you met and fell in love. This simplifies money matters before the wedding. If the marriage does not last, you will both be able to go your respective ways without a bitter and prolonged fight over the estate.
Prenuptial agreements can nevertheless be contentious. Raising the prospect of divorce before you even marry can cause tension. These matters must be handled carefully. A family law attorney can help you through the process of formulating and signing a prenuptial agreement.
If you are the one who broaches the subject of a prenuptial agreement, it may owe to the fact that you have more to lose or that your wealth and status make it necessary for you to make certain parts of your estate and business impervious to the effects of a divorce. No matter the reason, you must get your partner to retain their own legal counsel. The only way to make the agreement you eventually sign credible and beyond challenge is for your partner to sign it with a full understanding of its contents. And they can only get such an understanding with the help and advice of a lawyer who works for them.
Once each of you has legal representation, you will need to disclose all assets, including bank accounts, property, pensions, stocks and bonds, vehicles, high value family heirlooms and the like. You should also disclose any shares you may have in businesses. You will also need to disclose clauses in any wills, life insurance, or pensions that list beneficiaries.
You must both also disclose credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and overdrafts. This latter set of items is important, as the issue of debt will form part of the prenuptial agreement. It is essential that you not be made to assume responsibility for paying any of your partner’s debt should the marriage end.
The standard for most prenuptial agreements is that each party leaves the marriage with the assets and debt that they came into it with – should the marriage end within a certain time period. However, there is room for some give-and-take on the issue, and it is right for your partner’s lawyer to make certain demands on their behalf. You have the option of being in the room when your respective attorneys negotiate the final details of the contract or to leave the matter entirely to them. Most couples choose the latter to avoid awkwardness and tension. Your respective attorneys will come back to each of you with the draft of a final proposal.
Again, you do not have to sign the agreement at the same time or in the same room. As long as both of your signatures are on it, the document will be legal and enforceable. If there are things you want to talk over with your partner before you both sign, you can do so. The important thing is to forge an agreement that you are both comfortable with and that will not lead to regret in the months and days leading to the marriage.
Both lawyers will keep a copy of the agreement. After you are married, you should review it every 5 years. You will no doubt have experienced significant changes in your life if you are still married after 5 years. The nature and dynamics of your relationship may have changed in that time. The value of your estate may have grown or diminished, and you may have also had children. All these things must be taken into consideration in the review. You may want to make significant changes to the agreement. Or, you may have decided that an even distribution of the estate, in the event of divorce, is the only way to secure the material well-being of your children. You should always consult with your attorney before you make any such radical changes to the agreement.
Prenuptial agreements do not signify a lack of trust or commitment. On the contrary, they bring an additional dose of honesty and transparency to a relationship. You don’t need to be rich to create a prenuptial agreement. You may want to create one to protect a family home that you have inherited or to ensure that precious and high-value heirlooms that have been in your family for generations are not seized in the event of a divorce.
A prenuptial agreement is also helpful if both you and your partner are heavily indebted. If you are both still paying off your student loans, a prenuptial agreement will ensure that you are not burdened with each other’s repayment schedule. Entrepreneurs, who have gotten their businesses off the ground, have used prenuptial agreements to protect their administrative control over, and financial investment in, their fledgling business. In short, a prenuptial agreement is only a tool to help you reconcile your love life and your financial interests.
If you are engaged to be married and your spouse-to-be is much wealthier than you and asks you to sign a prenuptial agreement, you will need legal representation. A family law attorney has the experience and expertise to create a prenuptial agreement that will help you protect your material interests – even if you are the less well-off party. You still have rights, and your attorney will ensure that you do not sign a prenuptial agreement that is grossly unfair to you. You should only enter into such a contract with a full understanding of it.