You may vaguely know what a prenuptial agreement is, more commonly referred to as a prenup, from Legally Blonde or Kanye West’s “Gold digger” song, but do you really know how it is defined in legal terms? Upon entering my fourth and final year of my undergraduate degree, it feels as if everyone around me is becoming engaged, getting married, and starting a family, not only at St. Kate’s but at other universities as well. However, there is background information that is important when considering marriage in the case of prenuptials: what they are, why might you consider one in the future, how they can be beneficial for women and how they can also protect women financially.
According to FindLaw, a prenup “establishes the property and financial rights of each spouse in the event of a divorce, they are often used to protect the assets of wealthy spouses but also can protect family businesses and serve other important functions.” Although not many people want to bring up the topic of a prenuptial agreement when they are busy planning a beautiful wedding and booking a honeymoon, it is a reality we must face in a country where half of all marriages today end in divorce.
So how can a prenup be beneficial to women?
“First, it protects and preserves assets that a woman already owns. It then governs what happens if the marriage party does not work out. For example, if you have a family cabin and want to make sure that it doesn’t get passed to the other side after a divorce, If you are marrying someone who has more money than you can make sure you have a right to a certain amount of property or money,” said Susan Burns, Mock Trial professor and lawyer who represents small businesses in Minnesota.
Prenups can also include stipulations such as a division of household maintenance costs or a particular religious belief for children from a mixed faith marriage. There are however, three things a prenup cannot do, it cannot eliminate child support payments, provide for custody of an unborn child (example: “if we ever have children, I want my mom to be awarded custody”), and it cannot do anything that will promote a divorce (example: “I can get a divorce if I catch you having an affair,”).
A common misconception about prenups is that they are only for wealthy people. Signing this type of legal agreement can protect future earnings or protect a family business that one spouse is set to inherit in the future. Also, if your future spouse has a history of racking up substantial credit card debt, a prenup can state that each person has the responsibility for their own debts and ensure that the debts of one spouse do not become the responsibility of the other if the marriage does not survive.
A prenuptial agreement can also come in handy if you created a clause that spells out a fair division of the assets based on percentage of income earned and eliminates spousal support after a divorce if you become widely successful and financially well off after marriage. The downside is that you could be on the opposite side of that if your husband begins earning a lot of money after you marry him and you arrive at a divorce.
“A prenuptial agreement needs to be fair and it needs to be equitable in a court of law in order to be valid, so it is important to hire a family law lawyer who specialized in these kinds of legal agreements. You also have to have your own representation, not a spouse’s attorney who just tells you to sign here and they will take care of everything else,” said Burns.
You may be considering a prenup but are uncomfortable bringing up the subject to your loved one, either afraid you might offend them or infer that you are being pessimistic about the marriage and have thought about it ending in divorce. Whatever your reason might be, you need to set your worries and concerns aside and do what is best for you, both legally and financially so that you will always be protected. In a world where celebrity marriages have a history of lasting 72 hours to a couple months and high school sweethearts stay married for 45 years, we need to be prepared for whatever life throws at us and that means bringing up the topic that may provide you with some comfort in the face of a bitter divorce.
If you’re interested in becoming a lawyer, attending law school, improving your public speaking skills, or joining a great group of passionate girls, sign up for Susan Burns’ Mock Trial 2 credit class offered in Fall 2016 and J-term 2017 with a regional tournament in February. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hunt, R. (2013). Introduction to community-based nursing (5th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN: 978-1-6-913-686-4