Understanding Prenuptial Agreements

If you are currently engaged, money may be the last thing on your mind. It is easy to get swept away in romance and a heartfelt belief that your relationship will last forever. However, the reality is much more bleak. Every single marriage eventually ends, either by divorce or death. A prenuptial agreement, much like a will, will protect your assets at the end of your relationship.

If you are young and have few assets, you may not feel that you need a prenuptial agreement, since you are not coming into the marriage with anything significant. However, if one of you holds an advanced degree, especially in a high-paying field such as medicine, that person's earning potential is immense. If one of you owns a business, there is the potential for the business to become a huge success. If one of you will put the other through college, that investment must be considered. In short, no matter how few assets you both have at the outset, a prenuptial
agreement can make things simpler down the road.

Points to Consider
Assets that you bring to the marriage -- If either of you currently has assets, you must decide how you want those assets distributed if the relationship ends. Many couples choose to keep pre-marriage assets separate. If you want the future growth of those assets to remain separate, you must stipulate that condition in your prenuptial agreement.

Assets that are acquired during the marriage -- Any income or assets that you will acquire during the marriage but wish to keep separate must be delineated in the prenuptial agreement. You may also use the agreement to set a more general division of marriage assets. For example, if you want to give your spouse a 30% stake in any future business enterprise, you may stipulate this in the agreement. Otherwise, the courts will eventually rule on a division of assets.

Children -- If either of you currently have children, you may want certain assets
to go to your children rather than your spouse in the event of your death. To be certain that your wishes are fulfilled, delineate those assets in both your prenuptial agreement and your will.

Full Disclosure -- You must both fully and honestly disclose all of your assets in your agreement. If not, the whole agreement may be thrown out of court. While you may be hesitant to reveal your entire net worth, doing so is the best way to keep it safe.

Coercion -- Many prenuptial agreements have been thrown out by courts because it was believed that one party was coerced into signing. Prevent this from happening by retaining separate legal counsel for each partner. Sign the agreement well before the date of the wedding. Remember that the document must be notarized to be official.

Making It Happen
If you decide that a prenuptial agreement is important to you, broach the subject with your partner well before becoming engaged. Find out your
partner's thoughts and feelings on the subject. This will make it easier to re-visit the topic once the engagement is official.

Discuss the items that you both feel are important, and come to some understandings. Document everything that you discuss. The bulk of your agreement can already be in place before your lawyers become involved. They will work with you and with each other to turn your basic ideas into a legally binding contract.

Be open to discussion and negotiation, but also be aware of which points are non-negotiable for you. Occasionally, couples find that discussing a prenuptial agreement brings up areas in which they are simply not compatible. If this should happen to you, keep in mind that it is better to know before the marriage takes place. Much more likely, however, is for the two of you to find common ground from which to negotiate a suitable agreement. A prenuptial agreement may not be romantic, but it can save you both from heartache in the long run.