Marriage is supposed to be forever, but for some couples, divorce—not death—do them part. Fortunately, the divorce rate has been dropping in recent years, but it was still around 15% in 2019. To lessen the pain and expense should the unlikely event occur, talk with your future spouse about a prenup.
What Is a Prenup?
A prenup is short for "prenuptial agreement," which is a legal contract a couple signs before getting married. It’s the terms and conditions outlined by the couple that determine what happens to assets and income in the event of a divorce or even death.
While some people might believe prenups are for wealthy couples, anyone can outline terms in a prenuptial agreement. A prenup isn’t created with the expectation of divorce, but rather, to be protected should it happen.
How Does a Prenup Work?
Each state has its own requirements and proceedings for how to handle prenups. For instance, not every state has spousal support obligations. Prenuptial agreements can include:
- Assets and income for children from a previous marriage
- Separating marital property and managing separate property
- Estate plans
- Business ownership (whether it’s one spouse or a business split between both parties)
- Debt liability and financial obligations
Child support isn’t determined in prenups; that goes through the courts.
If you’re thinking about getting a prenuptial agreement, you should look for a lawyer who has experience in matrimonial law in your state. Costs can vary based on where you live, your needs, and the attorney you hire. If you don’t have very many assets or specific requests, it could take a few days to draft an agreement. If you have extensive requests, it could take a few weeks or months to craft. Attorneys typically charge by the hour, so the longer it takes, the more your prenup will cost.
Prenups can be as specific or as general as you’d like. If you own a home before getting married, you can outline in your prenuptial agreement that you keep ownership after a divorce. If you’re the primary breadwinner, your future partner might request spousal support in the prenup.
If you have pets or plan on getting some when you’re married, you can address that in your agreement. In most states, pets are considered property. Without a prenup, ownership could be determined by who paid adoption fees, for example.
There’s no one-size-fits-all prenup document, but couples can put in place as many requests as they see fit.
When drawing up a prenup, you can include specific clauses: For instance, if your spouse has an affair that ends the marriage, you might be entitled to a different settlement than if you were to divorce for other reasons.
Once both parties agree, they’ll sign the document before signing the marriage contract. If a couple wants to get married then sign a similar contract, they can enter into a postnuptial agreement.
Prepares for the worst
Protects assets and valuables
Can be amended
Can be biased
Can seem insulting
Can be upsetting
- Financial transparency: Many couples don’t feel comfortable talking about money. Whether it’s debt, wealth, or even credit scores, finances are a touchy subject. Having a prenuptial agreement requires couples to meticulously discuss money. Before you get married, you’ll see how your partner handles financial obligations.
- Prepares for the worst: Most people get married expecting a lifetime with their partner. But it’s realistic to think that even if it never happens, divorce is possible. A prenuptial agreement gives you a clear outcome, in case you do get divorced.
- Protects assets and valuables: At its very core, a prenuptial agreement should protect your things (and those of your future spouse). If you have something you don’t want your spouse to have if you separate, it goes in a prenup. It also protects you from your spouse. For instance, if your spouse has debt or has a business you don’t want to be liable for in case of legal action, you can detail that in your prenuptial agreement.
- Can be amended: You can make changes to your prenup after you get married, as long as both parties agree to it. You can also cancel your prenup.
- Can be biased: Sometimes prenuptial agreements can favor the spouse with more money or assets. If you don’t have your own lawyer review it, you may not know what you’re on the hook for. In the event of a divorce, you might be liable for something you weren’t aware of.
- Can seem insulting: Some people are offended by a prenup. Marriage is supposed to be for love, so why should a business-like contract need to enter the picture? Be mindful of how your partner will react when you broach the topic.
- Can be upsetting: A prenuptial agreement clarifies terms in the event of a divorce or separation. Giving careful thought and consideration to the end of your marriage when you’re just getting started can be depressing, at best.
Who Is a Prenup Best For?
While a prenup isn’t for everyone, you might find getting one is better than not getting one.
You have a business: If you’re a business owner, you may want a prenup to protect your company and your ownership stake in the event of a divorce.
You have kids from another partnership: If you have kids to whom you want to pass along assets, a prenup protects the items you want your children to have or keep in the event of a divorce.
You have assets you want to keep: A prenup specifically lays out what you and your spouse agree to keep for yourselves (and give up).
You want to control your future: Even if you don’t have many assets or much income now, you can lay out the way in which items you might acquire will be treated if you get divorced.