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The Unexpected Upside of Getting a Prenup

If done mindfully, the prenup process can bring couples closer.

Wedding planning is a joyous, albeit often stressful, time for an engaged couple. Pre-wedding plans can include a laundry list of to-do items, such as where and when to get married, how many people to invite, and what vendors to employ. Many couples, however, are now including another item on the to-do list: execute a prenuptial agreement. Although some couples are reluctant to raise the topic, if done with caution and care, the process can strengthen communication while offering both parties financial security. Psychologically, preparing for your financial future as a married couple can help to align your goals and expectations, while offering necessary insight into your fiancé’s thoughts and feelings about your future together.

A prenuptial agreement (“prenup”) is a contract entered into by a couple before marriage, which generally sets forth how money and property will be divided in the event of divorce or death.

Although many view a prenup as an unromantic gesture, it can actually enhance a couple’s relationship in significant ways. For example, it can inspire honest conversations about money, ambition, and plans for the future, such as raising children. Emotionally and psychologically, this can help couples to feel more aligned and united as they embark on a lifetime together. However, critical to the productivity of these conversations is the way in which the prenup is negotiated. The following guidance helps ensure a smooth prenup negotiation.

Broach the Topic Early

It is human nature to procrastinate, especially on tasks that are uncomfortable—like discussing a hypothetical divorce. But resist the tendency to put off the prenup conversation and have it as early as possible—preferably shortly after the engagement and before the wedding planning begins in earnest. As stress naturally increases as the wedding day approaches, you are more likely to have a rational and calm negotiation with more distance from the big day. If you are nervous or uncomfortable with how to bring it up, frame it as a mutually-beneficial planning instrument that can provide you both with added security. Once you have had the initial conversation, break the process into small steps (e.g., hiring attorneys, discussing the proposed terms, circulating the first draft of the agreement, and finalizing and executing the agreement) and give yourselves a deadline for each step so you stay on track until the prenup is completed. These measures will help the process feel more emotionally manageable and mitigate stress.

Hire the Right Attorney

Most importantly, hire an attorney who understands the difference between a divorce negotiation and a prenup negotiation. It is often wise to interview several attorneys and find one who shares your philosophy and goals for the prenup negotiation. If your attorney does not recognize and acknowledge that his or her job includes not only advocating for what is best for you but also doing so in a way that respects and protects your relationship, the attorney is probably not the right fit. While aggressive advocacy can be beneficial in a divorce negotiation, a prenup negotiation requires a lighter touch. What's more, find an attorney who will take the time to educate you and walk you through the draft agreement so you understand every provision before the draft is sent to your future spouse’s attorney. From a psychological point of view, you will not feel empowered by the prenup if you are unclear as to its terms and how it will impact you upon a divorce or death. To that end, it is incumbent upon you to voice your questions or concerns to your attorney, so the draft agreement can reflect your desires and goals.

Understand What Is Important to Your Partner

This may seem like an obvious statement, but it is amazing how many people go into the prenup negotiation without understanding (or even inquiring about) what is truly important to their fiancé. The best prenup negotiations are ones in which each side leaves feeling like his or her wishes have been addressed. For example, maybe you are an entrepreneur seeking to insulate your company from a hypothetical business valuation upon divorce; meanwhile, your husband-to-be questions what would happen if he scales back his career to be the primary parent. A prenup that protects your business from valuation in exchange for a set term of alimony for your fiancé would be a win-win that leaves you both feeling secure. Approaching it this way will leave you feeling like the prenup is protective of both of your needs. If it leaves you feeling otherwise, then invariably it will become a source of resentment and possible conflict down the road.

Agree on the Terms Before Presenting Your Partner with a Draft Agreement

As the classic negotiation book, Getting to Yes, astutely points out, “Even if the terms of an agreement seem favorable, the other side may reject them simply out of a suspicion born of their exclusion from the drafting process.” Being handed a fully-drafted 25-page agreement will only put your partner on the defensive and start the process off on the wrong foot. Instead, do not put pen to paper until you are both educated by your separate attorneys and have agreed, in principle, on the terms. Keeping this in mind will help the process feel more collaborative and inclusive of both of your needs and goals.

Prenuptial agreements, if handled correctly, can enhance a relationship prior to marriage and prepare a couple for their financial future. Psychologically, a prenup can offer security and certainty about the future, and entering a marriage as a secure partnership can help pave the way for a successful life together.

About the Author
Kara M. Bellew

Kara M. Bellew is a partner of Rower LLC and has been practicing exclusively in the field of matrimonial and family law since 2005. Kara helps clients resolve their divorces in a way that is right for them.

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