Proponents of the prenup–a written agreement between a married couple that spells out property rights if the marriage ends–tout it as a sort of insurance, a safe way to protect your assets before getting hitched. Opponents see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy that can cultivate distrust and encourage each party to keep one foot out the door.
So which is it? With divorce rates still through the roof, are couples naive to bet on romantic love without taking care of business matters first? Or are spouses who sign a prenup also signing the death certificate of their marriage?
Only you and your soon-to-be can answer the question, “Should I get a prenup?” But here are some points to consider no matter what you decide.
You need to answer some serious questions before you marry
A prenup doesn’t have to be all about planning for the worst; it can also work as an opportunity to discuss where each party stands on finances, children and more. Talking about these issues openly before the wedding can reveal future problems before they become more serious threats.
Many people use prenups to protect assets handed to them from a previous generation. A sour marriage can quickly drain a legacy of wealth built on several generations.
Prenups can also answer questions such as how custody will be arranged for children, if alimony will be provided for a spouse who stays at home, and whether infidelity negates all rights to money and property.
These are important questions you need to resolve regardless of how you feel about prenups. “The issue isn’t whether or not you sign one,” says Valerie Rind, author of Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads. “It’s about the conversation you have with your fiancé. If your discussion is a battle of ‘If you trusted me, you wouldn’t ask me to sign a prenup’ versus ‘If you trusted me, you wouldn’t hesitate to sign,’ then consider calling off your wedding. It’s better to have an unpleasant fight about trust and financial issues now than to have an uglier divorce later.”
If there are imbalances in a relationship, address them head-on
If one partner comes into the marriage with significantly more money than the other, a prenup may be advisable to protect what they accrued before the marriage. But doing so can imply that their intended is a gold-digger, or paint the poorer spouse as somehow less worthy because of their financial situation.
Such an implication, even if it’s unintentional, can be enough to ruin a relationship. Research done by a Harvard law fellow found that a majority of people say they would leave someone who wanted a prenup, so you need to make sure you and your partner are on the same page even if your bank statements aren’t.
It costs money to protect money
One factor many couples fail to consider is cost. Getting a prenup can be more expensive than getting engaged; lawyers charge an average of $2,000 to $3,000 to draw up a prenup. For many couples, that’s a lot of money to fork over for something you may not need.
Remember there are other options to protect your assets
Even without a prenup, there are ways to ensure your assets are protected. Some of these methods may not carry the same stigma as a prenup, but be aware that they can be just as divisive if both parties aren’t on board from the start.
Separate bank accounts can protect you from a spouse who has trouble managing money, or who might turn vindictive if the marriage dissolves. Even retirement accounts can be held separately so your nest egg is protected in case of divorce. Creating a trust is another way to separate assets before a marriage – you don’t even need your spouse’s consent to create one.
It’s also important to remember that a prenup may not hold up in court. (Remember Steven Spielberg’s paper napkin prenup?) A judge may rule against one for a variety of reasons, so consult with an experienced lawyer if you decide to go that route. If you move to a new state, it may be worth revisiting it to see if changes need to be made.
Prenups aren’t inherently bad or good. Not having one won’t guarantee an endless love, whereas having one may not spell doom.
“[A prenup] just means if they do split up, it should make the untangling process somewhat easier,” Rind says.
The question boils down to an issue of what marriage truly is: a rational partnership, an emotional entanglement, or some custom mixture of the two? It’s up to you and your future spouse to decide.