An acquaintance recently asked me for advice about talking with his lady love about a prenuptial agreement.
My first response was that every couple contemplating marriage should talk about money. Financial issues can break a marriage. If one of you thinks it is normal to go on a three-week cruise every year and the other thinks that the money for a week of inexpensive camping is all you should spend on the family’s annual vacation, you need to talk about how you want to handle those different expectations.
If one of you is a believer in saving for retirement from an early age and the other thinks that can wait until you are 45 years old, you need to talk about that.
As Michelle Singletary, well-respected Washington Post staff writer advises, “...come clean about everything financial -- your credit history, debt load, income, retirement plans. Discuss everything. It's vital that you exchange your views and values about money before you exchange wedding vows.” *1
So do you need a pre-nuptial agreement?
No matter how deeply in love you are at the moment, it is hard to ignore the reality that about half of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. *2
If one party brings considerable wealth into the marriage and the other brings little money or just debt, it seems reasonable for the wealthier one to limit his or her financial risk. Divorce laws vary from state to state and change every year, so a prenup seems like a logical choice.
But won’t that be awkward? Do you really want to ask your prospective fiancé to promise not to ask for any share of your wealth if your marriage fails after 15 or 20 years? What if the two of you have children and one becomes a stay-at-home parent? Will your spouse be handicapped in terms of earning ability if he or she spends 15 or 20 years as your spouse and then you dump him or her?
The solution is probably not all or nothing. Talking about money may dampen the romance for a little while. But working together, maybe with help from a family mediator, to develop an agreement about money that both of you think will be fair under a variety of future circumstances can be good for your relationship. It can lay a strong foundation for a respectful, caring marriage with good communication.
If you do want a prenuptial agreement, involve your fiancé in planning it. Just presenting a document that a lawyer prepared to protect only your interests is coercive, rude, unfair and likely to damage your marriage. Instead, search for a family mediator or a collaborative law firm to help you discuss why you might want a prenuptial agreement, and what terms should be included.
You can get creative, maybe writing clauses that say that a certain amount of what was your separate property will become shared marital property after a few years together, more after a few more years, and so on.
A family mediator who is not an attorney can help you figure out what both of you want your agreement to say. Nevertheless, before signing a prenup, do check with an attorney. There could be important points of law that should be included.
Note: The author is a Certified Family Mediator. She is not an attorney. Additional information is available at Colin Family Mediation. This article is for informational purposes only. Nothing here should be construed as legal advice.
1. ” Love And Money” By Michelle Singletary, Washington Post, February 5, 2006
2. CDC FastStats - Marriage and Divorce, 2009 data
• Marriage rate: 6.8 per 1,000 in total population
• Divorce rate: 3.4 per 1,000 in total population