The wedding season is just around the corner. Save-the-date cards have long been sent. Couples are finalizing the itineraries for the honeymoon.
While no conscientious couple would forget to book the photographer or pay the deposit for the caterer, the vast majority of these soon-to-be spouses overlook something that has potentially far greater impact on their lives: writing a prenuptial agreement.
Prenuptial agreements are binding legal contracts between two people planning to marry that typically direct such issues as division of property and spousal support in the event the couple divorces.
Laws vary from state to state, but most require that the agreements be in writing and signed by both spouses. Each partner must sufficiently disclose assets, income and personal debts. Both parties must have ample time to consider the agreement’s contents and have it reviewed by their own legal counsel. The contracts must be free from fraud and entered into without duress.
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You’d think couples would leap at the chance to protect their finances and property.
But that’s simply not the case. In a recent Harris Interactive survey, only 3 percent of all couples have signed prenuptial agreements, up from 1 percent in 2002.
Brides and grooms have a trousseauful of excuses as to why they avoid the prenup process. Some are overly optimistic about their chances of marital success. Research shows that, although statistics find that half of all marriages end in divorce, only 11 percent of potential newlyweds think it could happen to them.
Sixty-two percent believe a prenuptial agreement signals uncertainty in one or both of the partners. “If he really wanted to be married to me, he wouldn’t be planning for a divorce,” a young bride-to-be recently explained.
Others aren’t opposed to signing an agreement but said they’d feel awkward proposing it to their betrothed. Still others view the process as unromantic.
Not everyone needs a prenup. Most legal experts agree that couples who are marrying for the first time or who have minimal net worth don’t benefit from a prenuptial agreement.
However, they’re considered essential in the following instances: one member of the couple has significant assets, real estate holdings or is anticipating a large inheritance; there are children from previous marriages; and one person owns a business.
In spite of the hemming and hawing, prenuptial agreements can make sound economic and emotional sense. Couples discuss and decide before marriage how they will handle finances. In the event of a divorce, assets are allocated according to the couples’ wishes. Fewer decisions are left up to the discretion of the courts. Husbands and wives plan for the possibility of divorce while they are still accommodating and cooperative. Spouses feel secure knowing that their financial needs will be met should the marriage end.
A prenup is like an insurance policy. You hope it’s something you never need. Still, it may be wise to have one for protection, in case things don’t turn out as planned.
Tips for Preparing a prenup
Decrease the stress and haggling over your prenuptial agreement by adhering to these suggestions:
• Allow ample time. Don’t wait until your wedding day. It’s best to have your prenup completed several months before you walk down the aisle.
• Make the process productive. Your prenuptial agreement lets you orchestrate many facets of your soon-to-be-married life. Frame it in a positive light to minimize negativity.
• Focus on assets, not character. You’ve already made the decision to marry your partner. Keep your conversations directed toward finances and away from personalities and family.
• Be sensitive to the process. Discuss what each partner needs to feel safe and heard. Notice when tense moments arise. Avoid making inflammatory comments. Take breaks whenever necessary to reclaim a calm, respectful tone.
• Treat this as a trial run. This certainly won’t be the last issue you’ll have to tackle as a couple. Successfully negotiating your prenup demonstrates good problem solving skills. Failing miserably at the task may serve as a warning of dangers to come.
• Seek help. Developing a prenuptial agreement can be stressful and may require some outside support. Find a mediator or marriage counselor who can help sort through emotionally charged issues.
• Say “I don’t” if you need to. Never sign something that feels coerced or unfair. If your inner voice is screaming, “Don’t do this!” it’s probably best to walk away. Breaking up is never pleasant. Still, it’s far easier and less expensive than going through a divorce.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com