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Prenuptial Agreements – Not Just for the Stars

It’s easy to feel that a prenuptial agreement is an elite concept and not relevant for the average couple. On the contrary, many cultures utilize a form of a prenuptial agreement within marriage ceremonies all the time. Jewish religions have had brides and grooms sign ketubahs on their wedding day and Islamic couples have used mahr agreements for thousands of years.

Although both a ketubah and mahr by definition determine what a bride and groom will provide for their spouse, a prenuptial agreement protects assets earned prior to the marriage and determines how they will be allotted if the marriage dissolves. With first marriages happening at a later age for many young people, a prenuptial agreement may be something to consider before the marriage occurs, when parties have complete control of how hard earned assets will be managed.

Although more common in a second marriage, the most common reason for a prenuptial  agreements is when one or both parties have children from a prior marriage or relationship. The reason for this is to ensure that assets from a parent directly benefit the child of the natural parent and not the spouse or ex-spouse and their children. In this case, estate planning is also an important consideration. Without a prior agreement in place, upon the death of a parent, a substantial portion of personal assets would be awarded to the living spouse and children. A prenuptial agreement coupled with estate planning will ensure that children will be cared for according to your wishes and not those of the court.

It is common that one party in a relationship will have acquired more assets than the other, so this is the party who would benefit from a prenuptial agreement.  If this is the case, it is important to understand how emotionally charged a conversation around this topic can get. In essence it is an insurance policy of sorts. In theory, we never enter a marriage planning for divorce, but just like accidents or natural disasters, they do occur. It’s simply practical to be prepared and protected.

Approach this topic as soon as possible. Don’t save it until just before the wedding, when parties can be under additional stress already. If you intend to ask someone to sign this agreement, the conversation could be as emotionally charged as discussing what religion you’re going to observe, whether or not to have children and where to live as a family. Both parties will want their own lawyers and will need the time to become emotionally and legally comfortable with the agreement.

If you are considering getting married and want to explore whether a prenuptial agreement is appropriate for you, contact your lawyer to discuss your personal situation.