When Bill and Melinda Gates divorced in 2021, it made headlines, as did the fact that they didn’t have a prenup. The fact that one of the world’s richest couples didn’t have a prenup led others to ask whether they were necessary. A prenuptial agreement (prenup) is a contract that couples sign before marriage to designate how their assets will be divided in the case of divorce. With around half of American couples splitting up, a prenup is increasingly common as couples seek to set their own divorce terms, rather than letting a judge decide. Some people see prenups as a good thing, while others believe that they sterilize the beauty of marriage. Here are three reasons for and against signing a prenup.
Prenups Ruin the Specialness of a Marriage
From the get-go, both parties are thinking about money and divorce
It’s a fact of life that money can create huge conflict. Many families witness this during inheritance disputes, which can lead to unfixable grudges. But for newly engaged couples, even those who aren’t wealthy, to go over one another’s assets and have to decide who deserves what in case of divorce can poison one of the most beautiful moments of life – a marriage. Prenups can be born from distrust or poor faith in the longevity of a marriage. In fact, prenups themselves can cause such confrontation that they can even lead to separation before the marriage. Knowing that there is a quick and straightforward way out, couples might also feel less inclined to fight for the marriage during tough times.
Unless updated, they may not ensure equality
Conditions agreed upon before marriage may no longer suit both parties by the time they get divorced. While starting out on equal footing financially at the beginning of a marriage, one spouse may become a stay-at-home parent while the other focuses on career, which can quickly create a difference in the balance of personal wealth. Prenups might not consider this factor and leave one spouse far worse off monetarily than the other. Sure, couples can (and perhaps should) update their prenup, but doing so sure does take the romance out of a marriage. Nothing says happy anniversary like updating a prenup.
They may not even hold up in court
While prenups have risen in popularity, the 2013 decision by a New York judge to disregard one during a couple’s divorce set the precedent that they are not rock solid, legally. There have since been other cases and rulings that have further weakened the strength of prenups. That defeats the whole purpose of even signing one to begin with. Not reporting all assets, not having the correct legal representation, being too one-sided, or errors in paperwork are among many formalities that can undo a prenup. This issue is exacerbated by constantly changing laws, which can make a prenup that was set up perfectly before the marriage lose its validity by the time it is over. There are also differences between the way each state and country views them, adding to complications. Going through the cost, time and effort to set up a prenup may not be worthwhile if it can be voided anyway.
They Establish Fairness and Transparency
Ensuring personalized terms
Prenups allow couples to set their own terms for any potential divorce. This way, they can ensure that things will proceed in a highly tailored manner. Every couple is different, with varying needs. Some people may want to legally protect family memorabilia that has a lot of sentimental and monetary value. A prenup is ideal for ensuring that such precious items will remain within the family in the case of divorce. It can also protect a spouse’s pre-marriage savings and investments that may have grown significantly during the marriage. Prenups can specify that these savings remain the respective spouse’s, no matter what. With a prenup, both partners will be guaranteed terms that they came up with themselves with a cool head.
Adequately compensating the partner that stays at home
Prenups are usually thought of as a way for a rich person to protect his or her money, but they actually can benefit the partner making less money throughout a marriage. Among couples where one spouse decides to stay at home and take care of the kids, a prenup can ensure that he or she is compensated for having neglected their career while their partner nurtured his or hers. This is important since stay-at-home spouses aren’t always guaranteed alimony. Many are expected to just enter the job market after the divorce, even if their job opportunities have strongly diminished. A solid prenup can guarantee that the stay-at-home mom or dad will receive a fair compensation in the case of divorce.
Divorces can involve teams of lawyers on both sides and can take a long time, not to mention a lot of money, to finalize. A prenup can streamline this process, making it easier on both parties, while incurring far lower legal costs. Lawyer-driven fights can divide whole families. An engaged couple signing a document that sets clear guidelines for a potential divorce can find an early and fair solution that can offer closure for both sides. While talking about matters of finance is generally unsexy, having a transparent conversation early on can avoid heated confrontation down the line and set a good frame of dialogue that can actually strengthen the marriage. Plus, while prenups seem to be anti-romance, there is actually nothing more romantic than saying, I’m not here for the money, and let me prove it!
The Bottom Line: Prenups take the romantic ambiguity out of marriage and replace it with pragmatic foresight. For some couples, this may be ideal, while for others, it just isn’t. What do you think about prenups? Did you sign one or do you plan on signing one?