What is a Prenup and Why Do You Need it?
Find out the best way to practice safe marriage.
By Eric Althoff
She’s everything you ever dreamed of: hot, smart, funny, a demon between the sheets, makes you bacon omelets in bed and doesn’t even mind you rolling out to the strip bars with your buddies every so often.
Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?
Sadly, the answer to that question is “maybe, maybe not.” The marriage failure rate in America remains at or about 50 percent. Put another way: Heads you go the distance, tails you will split up.
What is a prenup?
Basically, a prenuptial agreement is an accord between two spouses-to-be detailing precisely how the couple’s assets (cash, homes, cars, your autographed Toto LP collection) will be divvied up in the event of a divorce or death. The basic point of a prenup is to protect the interests of both parties to a marriage in the event that the magic fades or worse, there is infidelity, spousal abuse or neglect.
Why get a prenup?
The legal and practical wisdom behind getting a prenup can be found in the prefix of the word itself: “pre,” meaning it is agreed upon and signed before the marriage takes place.
You are taking out insurance against the failure of your own marriage to potentially cover substantial losses if your dream girl suddenly flips and becomes Kathleen Turner in “The War of the Roses.” Remember what she did to Michael Douglas’s car?!
Divorce proceedings can take months or years, and cost many, many dollars, if the split is acrimonious. Agreeing who will get what in advance in the event one of you runs off with an ex, or a hot coworker, etc., will protect you both financially and legally.
This will lessen your legal bills too, as divorce attorneys aren’t exactly known for working cheap (at least, not the ones you’d want to hire.)
Who needs a prenup?
A prenup is an especially wise move for guys who own their own businesses, have substantial assets such as houses or large stock portfolios, stand to come into an inheritance from a relative or have children from a previous marriage or union.
It’s also a good idea if one of you is substantially wealthier than the other. See: Paul McCartney. Without a prenup before tying the knot, the Beatle had to fork over £25 million (that’s $50 million to us Yanks!) to ex-wife Heather Mills. And keep in mind that British courts typically award about one-third of a nest egg to the opposing spouse, but American courts often award up to half.
Do non-rich guys need prenups?
OK, so maybe you’re not as well off as McCartney, but prenuptialagreements.org advises that prenups aren’t just for the super-wealthy. Even if you only have a few thousand in the bank that you’d like to retire on someday and buy that lakeside bait shop, a prenup will protect such dreams from a greedy ex-spouse.
Remember, once you say “I do,” what you have is hers and vice versa. Spelling out in advance in exacting detail the division of property and assets will save you extreme heartache and hearty legal bills later on, not to mention your bait shop.
Are prenups bad for the marriage?
A criticism often leveled about prenups is that they are “unromantic.”
Well, perhaps, but so is purchasing car insurance. The difference is that driving without car insurance is illegal, not to mention foolish.
The same could be said of taking the marital plunge without a prenup. While prenups aren’t required, like other types of insurance, the fact is that if your marriage gets into a metaphorical car wreck later on, not having a prenup to fall back on will make for one unhappy (to be read “expensive”) divorce.
Don’t be naive
Many young people believe that love will carry them through the tough times, including a potential legal dissolution of marriage.
Granted, young lovers about to be married probably want to imagine a divorce as much as the rest of us want to think about our funerals. But like all unpleasant aspects of life, sitting down with your loved one to discuss potential problems down the line can make the transition from marital bliss to separation easier if and when it does happen.
If you and your woman truly do love each other and your relationship is strong, you should both be mature enough to sit down together to countenance the possibility of the marriage not working out somewhere down the line, and to then put down in writing what will happen if that comes to pass.
Better now, over coffee and with love in your eyes, than later, in a courtroom, before an angry judge who just wants to finish your case so he can get in some time on the links.
One final note of advice
Get an attorney! Simply writing down the agreement on a cocktail napkin and then keeping it in a safe will almost certainly not hold up in court. Spend the relatively small amount of money now to have an attorney draft the agreement to both your and your honey’s exacting satisfaction.
Prenups prepped by attorneys, and not signed by anyone under coercion, will almost certainly be valid even if your hair is gray (or gone) by the time you need to pull it out of the safe.
As sad as it seems, as people age, they change, and the tinted lens of lovey-doveyness of the honeymoon phase can and often does sour. You certainly hope that you won’t become a statistic, but a prenup is a cheap, legal and smart way to protect yourself against a heart-wrenching, expensive divorce.
Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that marriage was like being in a war. Well, you wouldn’t go off into war without a helmet, would you?