by Mary Jo Rapini
One of my dearest friends is getting married. He is a hopeless romantic and therefore I was shocked when he mentioned that he was exploring the idea of a prenup with his fiancé. I know her, and advised him to be careful. I thought she may be hurt and feel like he wasn’t really invested in the marriage. I asked him why he felt like he needed one (this guy has gone to more therapy than anyone else I know and both he and his fiancé are in premarital counseling). If there was ever a couple prepared for marriage it is them. He told me he would feel more comfortable if they were transparent with all of their financial information prior to marriage. Some of his words I understand, but something about the fact that a prenup is notarized and handled with lawyers makes me queasy. I want to believe I (or anyone else) can have an honest financial discussion prior to getting married without it being made legal.
Although we are hearing more about prenups with the recession they have been around for thousands of years. Before the Married Woman’s Property Act (1848) these agreements were necessary for women in theU.S.Until the act became the law, everything a woman owned or inherited was transferred to her husband. If he died or divorced her, she could lose everything. Prenups are felt to protect both parties today. They make financial agreements transparent so the couples understand each other’s financial background, goals and plans. For this reason, they may be a wise investment (they are an investment because lawyers cost money and these are legal documents).
The benefits of a prenup are several.
- Financial matters need to be addressed, and maybe doing it in a prenup document takes the emotion out of it.
- It shows you a side of your fiancé (what will it mean if the person doesn’t sign it?)
- If you have been married before it allows you to protect your finances.
- A prenup can protect family ties and inheritance.
- Anything you accumulated prior to marriage can be protected with a prenup (very important if you are getting married later in life).
- You are able to entertain financial expectations in writing before your wedding.
- If you do divorce (one out of two marriages does end in divorce in theU.S.) a prenup may help to eliminate battles over assets and finances.
The negative side of prenups are also several.
- Prenups are not romantic.
- Prenups can make one feel suspicious, or you may wonder if there is an issue of trust in this relationship.
- Most marriages go up and down. During the down part resentment is a very likely emotion. A prenup may add to this feeling of resentment (especially if your spouse really did not want to sign it).
- Marriage is all about commitment. A prenup affords the idea that there is a lack of commitment to one another.
- Prenups are a little bit like living together (I am going to try this out; if I get angry or don’t see the relationship going my way I am going to pack my bags and leave).
I never was offered a prenup when my husband proposed. I don’t think I would have married him if he had. He is older than I and was already quite established in his career when I met him. During the course of our marriage he allowed me the freedom to grow and identify a career I love and am successful with. We had and have honest talks about money. For us a prenup was not nor would ever be necessary. There are couples I see who may benefit from a prenup (I am not convinced my friend is one of them). If you are going to explore a prenup then I think these tips may be helpful.
- The time to talk about a prenup is early in the relationship. Explore the idea with your potential partner early. See how they feel about it. Waiting until the wedding is being planned is not the time. Your fiancé may feel coerced or resentful and this can hurt your relationship.
- When you discuss prenups, make sure you are honest and completely transparent. No one wants to be lied to, and if you lie about money you will lie about other things.
- Hire separate attorneys so you both have good representation. Share all information so both parties know exactly what they are getting into and what is being advised.
I will always believe marriage is sacred. It is the sacredness that makes me believe that I can be totally honest with this person regarding all of my financial as well personal information. I would be hesitant to enter into a marriage with anyone who did not fit my same values about marriage. Never sign a prenup unless you know this person is honest and transparent with their money as well as their love. Unfortunately a prenup is no guarantee for either. -Mary Jo Rapini-