Can a Pre or Postnuptial Agreement Save Your Marriage?

By: Joy A. Dryer, Ph.D.
Last Update: March 07, 2017

The month of June is famous as the wedding month. Folks get married in June because of good weather, and it is considered the beginning of vacation season. I’ll bet you 100 to one that maybe one out of 100 couples tying that knot in June has a prenup, and hardly any of those will even think about a postnup after marriage.

I’m a clinical psychologist who sees a lot of couples. Also, as a divorce mediator and collaborative divorce coach, I work with folks who are deciding to separate. I believe that a prenup might have saved some of those marriages.

What I mean is that those couples who spend the thought, energy, and time thinking about the issues raised by the prenup -- i.e., who gives what to whom when -- would have earlier on in their relationship started to lay down a foundation of mutual trust. Or, they would have discovered sooner where they might have irreconcilable differences in life goals and/or what gives their life meaning, and how to get there. The frank and intimate conversations required to construct a first-rate prenup gives both partners a chance to do a "road test", to "kick the tires", and decide to ride away together or to leave that model on the lot.

Issues Covered in a Pre and Postnuptial Agreement

The prenup frames many of the same questions asked in a separation agreement. It can cover a range of issues such as:

  1. Financial: Assets (e.g., income, stocks, bonds, etc); liabilities (e.g., debts); beneficiaries of pensions, IRAs, etc.

  2. Property: Pre- and post-marital; whether you live in an equitable distribution or a community property state; home ownership

  3. Support: Spousal maintenance(alimony); child support/custody; special needs (for child/aging parents)

  4. Insurance: Life; disability; medical/healthcare; living will; long term

  5. Lifestyle: Having children; stay-at-home vs. work; religion; spirituality

These issues focus on who gives what to whom and for how long. So if your relationship falters, you’ve already considered these issues when you were feeling good and generous toward one another. Or, if you sail through your lives with a deep, loving bond, you will have tackled and survived communicating about some pretty sticky issues. Either way, all the more power to you both!

Here’s some general background about the prenuptial process. I urge you to consider making such dialogues wherever you are in the progression, or even stalling, of your relationship.

Early Beliefs About Prenups

The prenuptial agreement is like a terribly misunderstood child, with bad behavior on a few well-publicized occasions. But it’s basically well-intentioned and can be delightful, smart, and creative.

Prenups have traditionally had a bad rep. You might think, as many do, that:

  1. The partner who asks for the prenup expects the relationship to fail.
  2. She or he is selfish and wants to keep "what’s mine as mine."
  3. A prenup is for the rich and/or famous. 

These are what I call “starter beliefs” because there can be a grain of truth in each -- for some folks. They’ve mushroomed into culturally accepted “truths”, but they are not necessarily facts, and may not be accurate for most folks. And they do not have to be true for you!

Cast aside your early beliefs. Cast aside unfounded fears. Cast aside even your deepest irrational feelings.

Reasons to Consider a Prenup or Postnup

Here are three rational reasons to consider a prenup or postnup (the three Ls): Loss, Luck, Love. I hope they will counter any irrational beliefs or feelings you might have lurking in the back of your mind toward the "bad child" prenup.

1. Loss

A prenup stares straight into the reality of loss. Yes, reality. Loss of your love, or loss of your life. A prenup is designed to describe clearly who gets what, when, and how, should your relationship end or one partner dies. If you’re like most people, you don’t want to think about such loss. But there’s an end to every relationship, because we all die -- at some point.

On the one hand, death is inevitable. On the other hand, some relationships will end when love fades, resulting in a couple separating. You may know the statistics: 2 million Americans marry each year…and about 1 million divorce each year. That’s an approximate 50%divorce rate! (Why that is so is a different story, of course.) A prenup acknowledges both these loss possibilities.

2. Luck

Life is full of uncertainties -- and risks. No one has a crystal ball. If you have a car, you have auto insurance. If you own a home, your home owners insurance hedges your bet against damage from fire, wind, or flood no matter how small the possibility is that these might occur. There’s no irrational causality here. Just because you have a will does not mean you’ll die soon. Just because you have car insurance does not mean you’ll have an accident. Just because you have a prenup does not mean your marriage will end. Conclusion: If you have a love, protect it too.

Life is sometimes about luck. Luck in the timing of stuff. A prenup codifies past, present, and future. The goal of a prenup is to disclose completely and transparently your past, to share your present love and goals, and to discuss your future hopes and dreams.

3. Love

You may be cohabiting, heading into marriage, already married, or considering heading out of marriage. It’s hard to think about the end of a relationship that’s just starting or in full bloom.

Your conversations with one another about who gets what, who does what, who owes what show that youtrust one another to say and to hear anything and everything. It’s in both your best interests to be prepared.

Summary

If the end comes, you’ll both be less bitter. A written prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, just like car or homeowners insurance, insures against an explosive end to your relationship. And, if you thrive together, these discussions can contribute to the enrichment and understanding of your bond.

That bond becomes nuanced as you deepen how youknowone another by disclosing everything about your beliefs and feelings regarding lifestyle, family, sexuality, money, etc. Such conversations may confirm why you wish to share your life with your partner -- or why you do not.


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