Let’s talk about something we don’t hear about often - prenups. Or maybe, you do it hear about it; in a negative context, a comedic sitcom script, or in an uncomfortable suggestion from your soon-to-be significant other.
It’s not every day we dive into such a hotly contested topic, and that’s honestly too bad! In an effort to open a dialogue and provide advice on relationships, we sat down to pick the brains of Valeria and her husband of almost 10 years Gary, to hear their journey to a prenup, hot takes on prepping for marriage, and perspectives on 12 of your most burning prenup questions.
1. So what's a prenup?
It's essentially a marriage contract. You can put anything you want within it. There are templated options which you can add clauses to (we'll touch on what that looks like later). Everything from finances to how to raise future children are often in these contracts. Think of it as a shareholder's agreement in a business. A prenup defines the terms of a marriage if you stay together, but more so, what happens to each partner when you break up.
2. Why do you have a prenup?
Gary was 38 when he proposed to Valeria, who was 20 years old. He had lived more life and had naturally gathered more assets.
We have a skewed perspective on marriage contracts because of what Hollywood tells us about them. So of course it can be uncomfortable to approach your partner about prenups. You might be worried about offending them or immediately feeling offended at the suggestion of a prenup yourself!
Gary: "The title itself has agreement in it! Because that's what it is. Prenuptial agreements are a good thing. It's an agreement between you and your partner.
My father said a long time ago that 'the best way to achieve peace is to prepare for war.' Create an agreement in the form of a document between two people, and enter into something as important as the marriage. It's your document of "What if's". This may be controversial, but prenups make your marriage happier. Both parties know what will happen in the case of a marriage breakdown and that gives them peace. The marriage itself is better because there is no weird tension between parties as to what could potentially happen in the future."
Incoming perspective shift: don't look at your partner and assume they're trying to protect their own money and you'll end up with less. Think of it as having a clear understanding about what you're getting yourself into.
Valeria: "I got independent legal advice (ILA) to help me analyze and fully comprehend our prenup. This independent counsel serves us both. Realistically, you can't know the future. People view prenups in too simplistic of a way, for example, whoever is more successful at the moment is the breadwinner, and they're trying not to include me in whatever it is we're sharing. But this ILA helps you understand how you will be taken care of in different scenarios."
3. What does having a prenup mean, exactly?
It's important to manage expectations. A prenup doesn't mean that if your marriage doesn't work out, you're going to be left on the street with nothing to your name.
Gary: "If you're planning on getting married, spending meaningful time together, having children, etc. and you expect the person you're marrying to end up with nothing if your relationship ends, don't get married. You clearly don't understand what marriage is supposed to be. It's unrealistic, and frankly unfair, for one partner (regardless of who has more or less money), to leave a marriage with empty hands. Not having a prenup is the equivalent of starting a business with somebody and not having a shareholder's agreement."
Valeria: "Also, if there are children involved, make sure there is something legal in place so kids are protected from any nonsense or conflict that arises around lack of understanding on finances, houses, etc. A prenup provides clarity."
4. Why shouldn't I be offended by a prenup?
Because of pop-culture, Kanye West songs, etc., there is a negative connotation associated with prenups. It's not an evil thing, it's a document!
Tip: Get independent legal advice. Understand the terms you're signing and requesting from your partner.
What to expect from a lawyer visit: they'll likely ask about your assets, net worth, overall financial information, and they will likely suggest your partner receives ILA as well. You can even get a lawyer to represent you partner and both lawyers can communicate and make sure both partners are legally protected and understand the terms.
Gary: "After Valeria's ILA meeting, she was a little offended and questioned me about certain clauses which I then explained. That was the only brief moment of tension during the prenup process, because we had an open dialogue, and both of us were approaching the creation of it to be fair and amicable."
Any agreement you enter into, look for equality. Once you have that, and once both sides feel they are well represented within an agreement, then it's more than likely a fair one. With marriage, that's when it will be the happiest; because you're valuing fairness.
Gary & Valeria: "We're happier because we feel we have an equitable marriage."
If you're from Valeria's generation, a lot of you may have grown up with parents who didn't have prenups or didn't openly discuss them. But if you have divorced couples in your life - it's not hard to visualize how divorce can play out in a messy way with or without a prenup. It can help show why a prenup may be necessary in your own relationship.
5. What are the disadvantages of NOT having a prenup?
Many people would claim the advantage to not having a prenup would be ego-based, as in, "we're so in love that we don't need a prenup." That's a simplistic and arguably romanticized view on marriage.
In many countries and states in the USA, even if you're together for ten years, everything you acquired before the marriage stays with you. The split between assets is what you make together, during your marriage. It's the increase in wealth after the point of marriage. The only exception of this is the matrimonial home.
Quick lesson on matrimonial homes: If you owned a home that you and your partner moved into and that home was worth 1 million dollars, and it was paid for with money you personally had before getting married, then you split that home between yourself and your partner. So the only asset you split from before you get married is that home, regardless of who paid for it before the fact of marriage. Everything else is divided 50/50.
All this to say, there are already certain protections in place in most countries' laws of marriage; so a prenup is just further outlining this in a clear way.
6. Why do you believe a prenup is important?
Because it outlines expectations and gives both parties peace of mind in case the marriage breaks down.
7. How do you approach requesting a prenup without offending your partner?
Begin by changing the narrative around what a prenup is. Try learning about what prenups are and do together, as partners. Next, see a lawyer and ask questions.
Tip: don't think of prenups as an offence on your love or devotion to one another. It's a basic document to start your marriage off in a secure and honest place. Don't let your ego play a role in it. A lot of us think prenups are unromantic or a bad omen about your love towards each other. It's the opposite actually, because it means you're looking out for your partner.
Gary: "If you ask you partner to sign a prenup and they have a negative or emotional response, that person may not be ready to get married. You have to deal with much harder things as a couple down the line, and a prenup discussion will seem like a walk in the park."
Valeria: We've been taught negative perspectives around prenups for so long; it's time to unlearn those, and actually educate yourself. Learn why your partner is reacting negatively, and don't let that possibly ruin a good relationship before you've both been educated.
8. Is a prenup essential for real love?
If there's real love involved, you need to protect that love. A prenup is an easy way to do that.
Gary: "Because Valeria loved me, and therefore trusted me, she was cool with getting a prenup."
9. Should you get a prenup if you don't own anything?
A common belief is that a prenup puts the person coming into the marriage with less money at a disadvantage. That's incorrect. A properly drafted and agreed upon prenup will actually protect that partner who is entering the marriage with less money or assets.
When you enter a marriage where there’s financial equality between two people, for example, if your net worths are similar, having a marriage contract that just mimics general law is still a good idea because it gets details out in the open. Both parties understand what happens if the marriage breaks down.
Gary & Valeria: Getting a prenup is a great exercise for you and your partner to do before you get married. Regardless if you own anything, you can see how you and your partner communicate on things that are not about romance. These are real issues you want to ensure you speak about openly.
Tip: Be sincere. Know how to handle these discussions as partners. It is great practice for serious conversations.
10. How do you say no to a prenup?
Gary: "If you're not prepared to get a prenup, just say no. But also be prepared that you may not end up marrying that person if that's a make-or-break thing for them."
11. What clause would you add to a prenup?
One popular example is the topic of raising children. Talk with your partner about if you're going to have children and how you may want to raise them. Some people add philosophies on parenting into prenups, since that's often a topic of future disagreement. It all depends on what's important to you. Prenups have a standard outline so anything you want to add needs to be important to you and your partner. Talk to a lawyer on how to add them.
12. What if I'm already married?!
Don't sweat it. If you're reading through this and your heart rate is increasing because you went the route of no prenup before the big day - there's always the option of a postnup. That's right, a postnuptial agreement is a similar document to a prenup and may open the floodgates to those difficult decisions with you and your partner. Most importantly, it allows you to lay everything out on the table while you're within a marriage, and once again, give some much coveted clarity on hot button topics.
Divorce isn't something you plan for, but financial changes most certainly can be. A postnup can outline both you and your partner's expectations for each other in terms of assets, who owns what, future parenting decisions, and your hopes for your financial future. Especially if you owned joint assets before marriage, if you each have personal assets (like a savings account), or haven't found a way to discuss children, this is an easy gateway into defining everything. We'd go so far as to say this postnup could very likely help stabilize your relationship by reducing any anxiety around financial unknowns in your marriage.
13. Explain the infidelity clause
Gary: It's irrelevant. Termination of marriage can be caused by any number of things - infidelity included. You don't want to run into issues of disagreement on "they cheated on me" with a counter argument of "but I was emotionally neglected" or whatever it may be."
Valeria: "It doesn't cancel out what you've built together during your marriage or what either partner deserves to get. So if you believe you've made an equitable prenup, you're covered in those situations."
The "Dont's" of approaching a pre-nup
Don't treat this marriage contract like it's some terrible or evil thing.
Don't let pop culture tell you how to perceive a prenup. Check yourself for any instilled emotions and opinions towards prenups and ask yourself why you feel that way, and if they are valid feelings towards your particular relationships.
Don't let your emotions overwhelm you and force your hand into making the wrong decisions in terms of your response to a prenup request.
Gary & Valeria: "If you're the partner going in with considerably more net worth than the person you're marrying, set realistic expectations. You can't expect to marry someone and have them give you X amount of their time, effort, and support, and leaving them with nothing if things end."