Are you madly in love? Anxiously anticipating the day you marry the most amazing person in the world? If yes, a pre-nuptial agreement (hereinafter “pre nup”) is right for you. Signing a pre-nup may not sound romantic and certainly does not top the list of glamorous wedding planning activities, but it is a practical part of entering a marriage. Marriage is a symbol of love and commitment but it is also a legally binding agreement that has far-reaching financial and emotional consequences.
Pre nups help you both identify your values, even in hard times.
Have you and your future spouse discussed children? Hopefully you have. Do you plan on having any? Will this impact the direction of either of your careers? What does your future spouse think of the prospect of spousal maintenance? You may think twice about becoming a stay at home parent if your future spouse is vehemently opposed to the idea of assisting you financially in the case of separation or divorce. You will most likely not have concrete answers to these questions right now and this is why a pre nup is an imperative step toward defining your core values regarding things like spousal support or asset division. In a marriage it is easy to make bold moves for the sake of your family goals that often correlate to huge sacrifices in terms of your independent financial stability. If you intend to become in any way financially dependent on income from your spouse, sign a pre nup. If you find the prospect of a pre nup agreement too daunting or fraught with potential conflict, recognize this as a red flag. If you can't discuss these things now, time will not make things easier.
Pre nups make sharing easier.
While drafting a pre-nup you and your future spouse will identify all of the assets that you each bring to the marriage. Do you have a car? Will you be inheriting money from your grandparents? What about the snazzy 401k you opened at your first job? A pre-nup will help you identify which assets you wish to keep ownership of separately and which you would like to possess jointly. By signing a pre-nup you eliminate the element of surprise that is so common during divorce or separation where one person was not aware that things like retirement or inheritance are up for grabs if there is no pre-nup in place.
Pre-nups are the first step toward healthy joint decision-making.
Making financial decisions with someone else having equal decision-making power is not something that comes naturally to many people. No matter how compatible you are with your future spouse it is difficult to make joint financial decision and it does not get easier when you are legally married. This type of decision-making is a learned and practiced behavior that develops over the course of a marriage. Love is a huge part of marriage, but love is not limited to a feeling. Love is an action that must be performed. Love is the ability to make commitments and plan for the worst while working hard for the best. A pre-nup is like having a back up plan. Have a “plan B” does not increase the likelihood that your “plan A” will fail. Pre-nups do not lead to divorce and arguably lead to stronger and more transparent marriages with mutually agreed upon parameters in the unfortunate case of separation or divorce.
If a spouse (or soon-to-be ex-spouse) contests a prenuptial agreement, the courts will want to ensure that the pre nup was fairly entered into and that each party fully understood the effect of the agreement and any rights he or she was giving up by signing it. Washington courts generally will enforce a prenuptial agreement if, at the time the agreement was executed, both parties were represented by independent attorneys, all assets and liabilities of the parties were disclosed, and the agreement was signed well in advance of the wedding so neither party can claim they were signing the agreement under duress.
If your soon-to-be-spouse freaks at the idea of a pre-nup, now is the time to discuss your values, sharing and joint decision-making. These are all topics that lovebirds should be able to discuss openly and honestly. If you or anyone you know is engaged to be married and thus, in need of a pre-nup, please forward them this article. You can also view more information about pre-nups on my blog. If you want a checklist to help you get started thinking about a pre-nup, email me.