Love Lessons

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PRENUPTIAL Contracts: A Blight- or Just Bright?

Prenups- Good or Bad???

One study has reported a rise in prenuptial agreements among Baby Boomers. So the question is why-and whether or not that's a good or bad thing.

The reasons for its increase are clear. Baby Boomers married later and so they worked for awhile and accumulated their own, individual stuff. They also got divorced more, lost a lot in those divorces, retrenched economically -and subsequently don't want to endanger what they have salvaged. Perhaps most, unlike previous generations, women's successful entrance into salaried and executive work created another gender that was worried about sharing what they had earned if a divorce were to occur. So, given all that, it would be shocking if prenuptials were not on the rise!

The fact is that it is impossible to predict if marriage will be for a lifetime. And the fact is that marriage is a business relationship that could end abruptly without the consent or knowledge of both partners. Oh yes, they are based on love, (at least in this country), but the institution exists far beyond the feelings of the people involved. Legal Spouses ( Gay or Heterosexual) are responsible for each other's debts, can spend money from mutual accounts and can be involved with property that they can not buy or sell without each other's knowledge and signature. Each state has a web of laws pertaining to the economic obligations of marriage and they differ significantly from one another. Some presume a fifty-fifty split, others whatever is "equitable". While ownership or income earned before the marriage is supposedly not considered joint ownership- ownership gets muddied- for example, a house owned by one spouse but substantially remodeled by the other, or changed by contributions to the mortgage, taxes, etc.

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What were the agreements of the two people? What did they intend? When a couple splits up there are almost always different recall about what that arrangement was. "Even prenups can be challenged but at least one thing that is fairly clear is that they signed a document as to their intent. Sure, they can be challenged for duress (i.e. popped out right before the wedding ceremony etc) but well done, represented by different lawyers, ) thy make the outcome of a struggle a lot more certain. In fact, they make it more likely that there won't be a struggle since if the two people are true to their arrangement- everything is pretty much determined.

But argue opponents- isn't a prenuptial proof of lack of commitment in the beginning. Doesn't it make it more likely there will be a divorce? Isn't it an exit strategy from the very beginning?

That all sounds rational-but there is no data that indicates any truth to any of those worries. I suppose there are fortune hunters who want an assurance of some pay off, who would rather not have a pre-nup but will do one assuming they will at least get something for their troubles and maybe they can break the contract if they have a few loop holes-but most people are just making sure that they are not risking everything-and that it is an insurance policy that they hope never to have to invoke (much the same way disability insurance is hopefully a wasted expense).

I don't think it spells the end of romance or a huge toehold for cynicism. I think it just reflects the social forces that have been changing for quite awhile now and an adjustment that is wise for most couples who are not just starting out in the world. Will it also be true for newly weds just starting out in the world without many worldly goods? Right now- not so much-but who knows about the future.

Keep your eye on that divorce rate-that may predict how common prenups may become.

Pepper Schwartz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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