You both plan on staying married “'til death do you part”. But what if your marriage ends before then?
Since marriage and divorce have a huge impact on love and money, it might be worth considering a prenuptial agreement, or prenup for short. Prenups are one of the most controversial and emotional topics in personal finance, so let's explore the pros and cons of a prenuptial agreement.
A Very Brief History of Marriage
Before we can answer the question, “What is a prenup?”, we need a crash course in marriage.
Though it may come as a surprise to some of us, marriages originally served as a business arrangement of sorts. The notion of romantic love as the driving force behind tying the knot is a modern invention. While many Americans tend to think of arranged marriages as happening in other cultures and other time periods, the truth is that we are not many generations removed from that being the norm virtually everywhere.
Because marriage has changed so drastically over the last few generations, so has divorce.
While the CDC notes that the divorce rate has dropped a bit in recent years, most of us are familiar with the ballpark estimate that about half of all US marriages end in divorce. The stats are even worse for second and third marriages.
Though many people focus on the romantic side of marriage, there is no denying the financial implications of divorce.
What is a Prenup?
That's where prenups come in.
A prenuptial agreement is a written contract between two partners that details plans for their finances and assets in the event of a divorce. Since it is a prenuptial agreement, it is written before the marriage takes place.
Raiford Palmer, an attorney at STG Divorce Law and author of I Just Want This Done, says that a prenup is actually more than that. A prenup is also a way for a couple to nail down other factors in a way that benefits both people. It makes the divorce process more efficient, though hopefully unneeded.
The Unexpected Part of Prenups
It's true that marriages can fail. There are some things you can do to troubleshoot some of the biggest problems. But did you know that planning for a prenup can actually help your marriage succeed?
It seems counterintuitive to some people, but prenups actually help partners get on the same page, says Palmer. It's very easy to get swept up in the love and excitement of a proposal and wedding planning. As a result, the nuts and bolts of a relationship often go overlooked until after a couple ties the knot.
However, because a prenup requires you and your partner to discuss your current financial standing and review your assets together, you can start laying the foundation for your journey together. In addition to discussing debt, you can also talk about dreams and goals for your future. Some couples find that prenup conversations also spark candid conversations about everything from dreams of entrepreneurship to family planning.
A prenup is so much more than a balance sheet. It's an opportunity to really understand where you and your partner currently stand and where you hope to go together.
Pros and Cons of a Prenuptial Agreement
There's a good chance you already have strong feelings about the concept of a prenup. Maybe it's based on something you've seen family or friends go through. Perhaps your perspective is colored by sound bites from reality TV shows or headlines from magazine tabloids. But have you stopped to consider the pros and cons of a prenuptial agreement?
The Benefits of a Prenup
There are several benefits of getting a prenuptial agreement. Let's explore some of the biggest benefits:
Prenups mean you're prepared
Divorce lawyer Raiford Palmer says that prenuptial agreements are met with the same reservation as estate planning. Both types of planning are logical. Even though they are sound financial steps to take, people hate thinking about them. It makes sense: no one likes to think about death or divorce.
The problem, of course, becomes that people never want to think about it. That means many people die without estate plans, leaving a complicated mess for grieving loved ones.
The same is true of marriages that end without prenups. It often makes an emotionally and financially difficult situation that much worse for both partners. Getting a prenup can be an important part of your financial plans.
It's easier than ever
As more and more people talk about the benefits of prenups, it's getting much easier to get one. Though the myth that prenups are only for wealthy people still persists somewhat, more and more average Americans are exploring prenups.
Companies like JUSTLAW make it really easy to explore the prenup process. No future family fortune, no family lawyer on retainer needed!
It's as cheap as it will ever be
Legal fees are increasing. That means that the cost of securing a prenup could go up in cost as well.
Not only that, but the best time to sort out your finances is at the start of your marriage. As you grow your wealth and your financial situation becomes more complex, the cost of getting both financial and legal support will likely increase.
That's true whether you stay married or do eventually separate. So if a prenup seems unnecessary because you and your partner don't have much by way of assets or net worth now, know that seeking a prenup can actually save you a fortune later on.
Prenups are another way to show you care
No one goes into a marriage thinking that theirs will end. But having a prenup prepares you and your partner for that possibility. We've all heard horror stories of divorces ending in animosity.
While there's no way to know how you will respond emotionally in the event of a divorce, a prenup ensures that you and your partner will experience at least some certainty as to how your separation will go financially. That means that prenup is really a gift of future peace of mind for yourself and your spouse.
The Drawbacks of a Prenup
Prenups aren't for everyone, though. There are some drawbacks to prenups that are worth considering.
It can put your partner on the defense
The biggest drawback to a prenup is that it can churn up some less-than-positive emotions. That's likely because our society perpetuates a lot of myths about prenups. They don't jinx a marriage, and they definitely aren't reserved for only the rich and famous. But if that's your partner's only frame of reference for a prenup, that initial conversation could be difficult.
As with all tough or taboo money topics, approaching a prenup from the angle of planning your future together can help.
Prenups might push you into counseling
Discussing the logic of a prenup can be pretty revealing. If it seems like you and your partner can't get on the same page, that doesn't mean the relationship won't work. It might, however, mean that it's time to bring in a pro.
We are actually fans of marriage counseling. In addition to having positive firsthand experience, we have friends and acquaintances who actually credit their successful marriages to counseling.
Still, it can be tough to realize you're already at an impasse before you've even tied the knot.
There is a cost in terms of time and money
There's no denying this next drawback. There are two costs associated with prenups: time and money. For a couple with a straightforward financial situation, expect to pay an average of about $2,500 for a prenup. Of course, if your situation is more unique, that will cost you.
However, when you compare these expenses with that of a divorce, it's no wonder that more and more people are happy to pay for a prenup.
Is Getting a Prenup a Good Idea?
Like Nicole and I did, many people assume that prenups are only for people who have a considerable net worth. That's actually not true. A prenup can be a good idea for any couple.
There are specific circumstances, though, where a prenup is definitely worth considering.
Getting a prenup is a good idea if you or your partner:
- Plan to stay home to raise kids
- Run a business
- Have a significant net worth or a significant amount of debt
- May inherit a large amount of money
- Already have children from another relationship
- Have been married previously
In all of these situations, couples can outline exactly how they envision the marriage aligning with their special circumstances and what the results should be if that marriage ends. In these cases, a prenup is definitely worth considering.
How to Get a Prenup
Getting a prenup is simple and straightforward thanks to companies like JUSTLAW. As Palmer pointed out, the process of obtaining a prenup is getting easier. But don't let that be a reason to put it off! The prenup process does take time and legal costs, in general, are increasing.
These are the basic steps you would follow if you decide on a prenup:
- Have an honest conversation about prenups.
- Decide who will draft the prenup. You might work with a family attorney or online platforms, such as JUSTLAW or Hello Prenup.
- Total up your assets and your debt and have your partner do the same.
- Start discussing how you imagine dividing assets, including property, in the event of divorce.
- Decide how finances will be handled, including debt and taxes.
- Outline other considerations like spousal support.
- Work with a legal expert to get your questions answered and make sure the prenup is fair.
Throughout the process, continue to ask for support, whether you are working with a person or an online platform. Expert advice can make the process feel less personal and keep things running smoothly.
Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons of a Prenuptial Agreement
Despite the myths and misconceptions, prenups can actually be a gift to your partner.
If you're ready to see if a prenup is right for you, check out your options with JUSTLAW or consult with a local attorney. And no matter where you land with a prenup, make sure you start having purposeful conversations about your money and your future with your partner.
What do you think about the pros and cons of a prenuptial agreement?
Please let us know in the comments below.
Great way to break it down, Andy. In our world we are lucky that transparency is valued, so these conversations are typically easier when both partners are on the same page. It’s about making sure you take care of one another before emotions fly and finances are doomed.