When Robert, 54, and Alexa, 48, met with me for couples counseling, they expressed a difference of opinion about whether or not they should get a prenuptial agreement. Both had been married and divorced, had grown children, and were considering getting remarried.
For Robert, a prenup was a deal-breaker and he was unwilling to proceed to marriage without it. A Real Estate developer, he had significant savings and owned three homes, worth over $500,00 each. In Alexa’s case, she did have savings but didn’t own property and was working part-time as a paralegal.
Alexa put it like this, “If Robert trusted me and really loved me, he wouldn’t make such a big deal about getting a prenup. I’m not interested in ripping him off and he should know this. What’s the point in getting remarried if we don’t trust each other?”
Robert responds,” It’s not about trust or love, it’s just that my first marriage didn’t work out and I ended up paying a lot of money in alimony and child support. I don’t think Alexa is a gold digger but I have to protect myself. I also have two daughters in their twenties that still need some financial support.”
The Pros and Cons of Prenuptial Agreements
First, a prenuptial agreement, commonly known as a prenup, is a contract between two individuals engaged to be married or remarried. In this contract, they agree that certain assets will not be considered marital property in case of divorce. Further, a prenup protects the assets of both spouses from property settlement claims of the other person should they divorce. Prenups can also determine what happens to marital assets should one spouse die.
A prenuptial agreement is not for everyone, but the process of openly discussing the details of your past and current finances is highly recommended by experts. Author Patricia Schiff Estess takes a favorable view of couples being transparent about finances and says this can often prevent divorce. She explains that it’s better to know if you will have trouble discussing finances prior to marriage, rather than after the complications of remarriage set in.
Most people don’t draw up a prenuptial agreement because they are controversial and sometimes lead to explosive conversations. However, when people remarry later in life, as Robert and Alexa were considering doing, many concerns arise that could be addressed in a prenuptial agreement. In any case, attorney Karen Covy recommends that couples meet with their own attorney first.
Some experts believe that prenuptial agreements can spark a divorce because they promote defensiveness, but others feel they encourage honest discussion about finances. For instance, Alexa believes that drawing up a prenup will add stress to their remarriage and Robert isn’t worried about this. Because he and his ex-spouse kept secrets about money, he’s in favor of full disclosure about finances.
In cases where couples have fairly similar incomes and assets, they often decide not to draw up a prenuptial agreement before they wed. However, they might meet with an attorney and establish an estate for their children from their first marriage and include provisions for them in the event of death. Prior to doing this, it’s a good idea for couples to have a conversation about finances.
Prenups and Remarriage
There are many special concerns of couples considering a remarriage. These concerns include supporting each other through retirement and old age, leaving assets to children, stepchildren, and “mutual children” if the marriage is ongoing at the time of death, and ensuring a peaceful divorce if the remarriage fails. Further, a prenuptial agreement can be a vehicle to help you decide how to support yourselves during the remarriage and to make mutual decisions about finances that feel fair to both of you.
On the other hand, there are certain conditions wherein couples entering a remarriage may want to consider a prenuptial agreement even if they have similar assets and income. While often thought of as a negative signal to the other person and a risk factor for divorce, the advantage of a prenuptial agreement is that it can protect a couple with unequal assets or if one person feels insecure about finances. It can also give people a sense of security if they have been victims of financial infidelity or have concerns about having funds for retirement.
Since the divorce rate for second and third marriages is between 60 and 70 percent, compared to 45 to 50 percent for first-time married couples, a prenuptial agreement may be a good idea. Although the perspective of a prenup is that a partner does not have a high level of trust, the opposite is true because all assets must be disclosed in order for an agreement to be valid. In my opinion, full disclosure of finances can promote trust over the course of a marriage or remarriage.
Full Disclosure of Assets Is Required
It’s evident that prenuptial agreements are here to stay and they are increasingly accepted by couples who value openness, compromise, and communication. In the case of Robert and Alexa, they choose to proceed with a prenup after careful consideration and consulting their own attorneys. In the end, they worked out an agreement that honored both their needs for transparency, security for themselves and their children, and good communication.
Whether or not you decide to draft a prenuptial agreement, finances are essential to every aspect of your life, and discussing them openly will provide you and your partner the best opportunity for building the foundation of a strong relationship. As a result, I highly recommend that couples in first-time or remarriages discuss the details of their past and current finances and make informed decisions about both the advantages and disadvantages of a prenuptial agreement.