People treat divorce like it's the molding, limp banana that's been sitting at the back of their fridge for a couple of months. They don't want to see it, they don't want to touch it, they turn their nose up on it and completely ignore its existence! That's why I feel like there's a lot of stigma attached with "pre-nuptial agreements", because no one EVER makes a pre-nuptial agreement unless it's JUST IN CASE. When there's a "just in case" caveat thrown into your relationship before you and your future spouse even enter the marriage, it just seems like bad juju floating around in the atmosphere.
But let's be real here. If life was perfect, the Amy Poehlers and Will Arnetts of the world would STILL be together (but it's not, so excuse me as I wipe a tear with a ripped out page from the tabloid sitting on my desk). Sometimes, life is going to throw you off the ledge and it's better to be safe than sorry when you're staring at your financial statements then.
Plus, a marriage is not just an emotional and legal union, but it is also a financial union -- if financial advisors are saying it's a smart move, who am I to deny the opinion of an expert just because of just-in-cases? Hence, I'm going to give a quick and dirty rundown of what the fascinating mythos & processes behind pre-nuptial agreements, and why you should or shouldn't have one.
The History of Prenups
This couple broke tradition for UK royals by NOT signing a prenup | The Telegraph
A prenuptial agreement is made between two people about to wed and dictates how marital assets will be divided if the marriage either ends in death or divorce. Essentially, it's like insurance for your marriage -- if your marriage ends up getting dents and bumps, you'll want to make sure that you can emerge from it relatively and financially unscathed.
As relevant as the stigma behind prenups is right now, pre-nuptial agreements have been around for a LONG, LONG time. According to Prenuptial Agreements: How to Write a Fair and Lasting Contract by Katherine E. Stoner & Shae Irving:
"People have been making prenuptial agreements for thousands of years. Scholars tell us that the practice dates back to the ancient Egyptians, and that prenups have existed for many centuries in Anglo-American tradition. In previous times, the parents of the bride and groom negotiated the agreement on the new couple's behalf."
As impressed as I am about the fact that people actually took time to write a book about prenuptial agreements, I'm even more impressed with the fact that even the ancients had in mind some sort of policy to preserve their inheritance and wealth. But, if you really think about it, it DOES make sense -- in a world where wealth is hard to come by, people are willing to take measures to ensure the safety of their own belongings. And that sentiment has not changed on single bit today.
So why do people automatically think of pre-nuptials as a gateway to divorce? Well, not ALL marriages are split 50/50 (more on that) like we commonly hear, but there are state laws dictating how to divvy up marital assets by equitable distribution if marital assets are left alone. How would you feel if you had a spouse making significantly more than you do, but telling you that he/she wanted a prenup to make sure that his/her expenses were in order just in case the worst possible scenario happened?
I'd feel pretty sh*tty.
But put yourself in the other person's shoes. What if you were the person making significantly more money than the spouse, and your marriage ended up in disarray? As much as I'd hate to admit it, I would want to make sure that my assets were well-protected and that I come out of this marriage with the minimum amount of damage.
It's easy to see pre-nuptial agreements as selfish and setting yourself up for failure before you've even begun, but marriage is essentially the beginning of a new life -- why would you want to enter it unprotected and unprepared?
The Fascinating (Somewhat. Maybe, Not Really) Process of Getting a Pre-Nup
The process of getting a pre-nuptial agreement isn't really that hard, but there are a lot of things you can do to make the process easier and more bearable while actually going through it and the long-run.
- Talk to your fiancee - Okay, this is a no-brainer, but be frank with the subject and don't beat around the bush. Nothing spells like bad communication like being unable to tell your fiancee that you just want to protect your assets legally. No harm in that, right? Plus, it's a huge stepping stone if you manage to simply and coherently explain a sensitive issue such as this without coloring it without any drama. This means that you will be able to handle situations like this in the future. That, or you can hire a lawyer/mediator to get the ball rolling.
- Write up your assets - Make a list of your already existing assets. I mean, have you seen the rates that lawyers charge?!? Don't pay a few extra hundred just for them to act as a glorified archivist. Sit down at your desk, scratch your head, and jot down everything you think is worth protecting in your pre-nuptial agreement.
- Hire different lawyers - Just trust me on this one. Do you REALLY want to have the same lawyer as your spouse if worst comes to worst? Or no lawyer at all?
- Draft the contract - The lawyers will draft the contract and explain term-by-term what each clause means for the couple. Probably the most time-consuming and crucial part, but it gives the couple an opportunity to dictate which of their assets is valuable to them and what they would like to protect to each other and the lawyers.
- Revise & sign - Once all the changes have been made accordingly, the couple will sign the agreement and can go back to... I don't know, picking out what color napkins to use for their wedding? Hurray! You're done! Now let that pre-nuptial agreement sit and sit for a REALLY long time.
Follow Your Brain or Follow Your Heart?
Now the question is, do I REALLY need to get a prenup? What if there really is bad juju associated with prenups?
There's a huge list of things factoring into whether or not a pre-nuptial agreement will actually be useful for your marriage (eg. your independent wealth at the time, the fact that you two are so in love with each other to the point that divorce will never happen, divorce is not an option because of religious beliefs, etc.), BUT I will say this. A pre-nuptial agreement is really only ever useful if you allow it to be what it is -- a contract that stipulates terms for events that will occur post-marriage.
Which means that YES, I'd like to be cautious and suggest people get prenups. Is it a contingency plan? Not necessarily. Once again, it is just a contract and there are no strings attached to it DURING your marriage. If you need even more convincing, consult a financial advisor on the pros & cons of a prenup. A pre-nuptial agreement has no say on your emotional and romantic connection with your fiancee. It only deals with the hard finances.
So, get the issue of a prenup out of the way as efficiently and effectively as possible, and start focusing on how you want to spend long, long years with the love of your life.