Prenuptial agreements are a bit of a sticky issue when it comes to marriage-planning. They whisper the possibility of divorce in the future, and no one wants to admit that their happily-ever-after might not work out after all. But, emotional misgivings aside, is getting a pre-nup a good idea?
A prenuptial agreement (also called a premarital contract, or colloquially, a pre-nup) is a written contract. It is reviewed and signed by the bride- and groom-to-be prior to marriage. While there are slight variations from one individual contract to another, in general, a pre-nup answers the inevitable questions of:
• property rights. Who will property pass on to, and how much of it? How will property be carved up amongst any children?
• debt management. Who will be left to handle which debts? Who will the creditors be contacting? Who will be protected from creditors?
• alimony payments. Will one spouse be required to pay alimony to the other? What will the amount be? Will alimony be waived altogether?
• financial responsibilities. How much money should be set aside for savings? How will utility bills and the mortgage be paid? Will the bank accounts be combined, and how will they be managed?
It's a common misconception that only wealthy people with huge assets need to worry about pre-nups, but as the above examples highlight, that's simply not the case. No matter how modest or generous you and your spouse's incomes are, basic financial questions are going to come up regardless. A prenuptial agreement can help settle those questions.
Should We Sign a Pre-Nup?
First, be aware that prenuptial agreements are centered around financial issues. Topics not pertaining to money – such as last names, or custody and visitation rights in the event of divorce – do not fall under a pre-nup's domain. Those are issues that need to be dealt with by other means.
Now that that's clear, and you're still considering a pre-nup – is it right for you and your spouse? Let's examine the pros and cons.
• Divorce can be bitter and complicated – but if you already have a pre-nup, it's that much work already done for you. With the details laid out in advance, there won't be any nasty surprises.
• You can protect yourself from losing huge amounts of money or property to your spouse.
• Building a pre-nup forces frank, open, and realistic discussion of finances between spouses, and transparency is probably healthier than keeping secrets.
• No one wants or likes to think about the possibility of divorce. For some people, it could put a damper on the wedding and what ought to be the “honeymoon period.”
• Pre-nups aren't fail-safe: they can be challenged in court, which can rack up large fees.
There are benefits and drawbacks to signing a prenuptial agreement. Only you and your spouse can make the ultimate decision. But whichever route you choose to travel – be informed.