I know what you’re probably thinking: she’s a divorce lawyer. Of course she doesn’t want prenups to save marriages! Divorce is her business! And, it’s true. I make money from people’s pain.
Unfortunately, so do doctors, dentists, therapists, and lots of other professionals. And, just like medical professionals want to help people get healthy again, I, and most of my colleagues (OK, not all … but most!), want to help people get through their divorce so that they can be happy again.
So, why do I hope that prenups can’t save marriages? Because, if the truth be told, even though I’m a divorce lawyer, I’m also the biggest, sappiest, most hopeless romantic on the planet. Let me explain.
Prenups (or prenuptial agreements, as we lawyers like to call them) are agreements that two people enter into before they are married that control what will happen to their property when the marriage ends. And, in this world, every marriage ends. Some end in divorce, others end in death. But, sooner or later, unless the couple is lucky (or unlucky) enough to die together in a tragic accident, all marriages end. Prenups are contracts that govern what happens in both circumstances.
Of course, thinking about what will happen when your marriage ends is not exactly an uplifting way to spend your pre-wedded bliss. Most of us prefer to live in oblivion, happily ignoring the inevitable. (Which is the same reason that so many people don’t have Wills …. but that’s a topic for another day!) Besides, planning the wedding is so much more exciting than planning a divorce! … or at least that is the prevailing view.
But, contrary to what most people think, preparing a prenup is NOT planning for divorce! OK, yes, talking about a prenup with your fiance requires you to talk about what you want to have happen with your finances if you divorce, or if you die. But having that conversation is not the same as planning your divorce or your death. Quite the opposite. Having that conversation is the best thing you can do for your marriage.
The Value of PreNups:
It’s no secret that money troubles are at the core of many failed marriages. What is surprising is that so many people who about to merge their finances and their lives, don’t talk about what that merger is going to mean before they jump in and do it!
So many soon-to-be-married couples never talk about what they think about money, how they feel about money, and what money means to them before they get married. They don’t discuss their values surrounding money. They don’t talk about whether they are spenders or savers. They don’t talk about whether they think it is important for one of them to stay home and raise the kids when they are young, and what that will mean for their financial future. They don’t talk about their expectations about whether each of them continues to work during the marriage, or how much money they each need to make in order for them to live the life they want. They don’t talk about finances at all!
Why PreNups are Important:
So, why are prenups so important? They are important because they force people to have conversations about their thoughts, feelings, and values surrounding money. They are important because they force people to think about ugly, hard, and unpleasant situations BEFORE they happen!
Rather than saving marriages, prenups probably stop quite a few marriages from happening in the first place. And, do you know what? That’s a good thing!
If two people are not on the same page about money on the day they get married, there is a really good chance that after a few years of marriage they are not even going to be in the same book! That’s even more true if one of them loses their job, or gets sick, or they have any other financial challenges (and, let’s face it: who among us hasn’t had a financial challenge or two in life?)
So, Does Everyone Need a Prenup?
No! If you and your fiance are 20 years old, have few assets, little debt, and no kids, then maybe you don’t need a prenup. On the other hand, if you are 40 years old with kids from a former relationship and plan to marry someone who has substantially less money or income than you do, then, yes! You need (or would be well advised to have) a prenup.
But, the most important question is not, “Do I need a Prenup?” The most important question is, “Did I have an honest, deep, detailed conversation about money with my fiance?” And, if the answer to that question is “yes,” are you satisfied that, after having done that, you two are going to be financially compatible? That’s what is important!
Why I Hope That Prenups Don’t Save Marriages:
OK. So, if prenups are such a good thing, why do I hope they don’t save marriages? Simple.
Prenups set out the rules for what is going to happen with money when people divorce or die. They usually contain very specific provisions about how long two people have to be married before one of them is entitled to maintenance/support from the other, and how much of the assets each of them will receive if they get divorced after a certain period of time.
If the only reason that two people are staying married is because one of them stands to get more money if they wait another two years, or ten years, or whatever, before they get divorced, I find that incredibly sad! Sure, money is important, but if money is the only reason you are staying in a loveless marriage, then I think that’s tragic!
Maybe I’m naive. Definitely, I’m a hopeless romantic. But the truth is, the reason that I hope that prenups don’t save marriages is not because I believe in divorce. The reason I hope prenups don’t save marriages because I believe in love.