Talking with your friends about whether you need a prenup is awkward. It’s like asking, “How much money do you make?” (which is never socially appropriate). But the word “prenup” does seem to be popping up more often in pop culture. Maybe you’ve even wondered if it applies to you.
To protect your good manners, we talked to Dallas-based family law attorney Hayley B. Collins to get a quick lesson on what a prenup is – and whether you might need one.
A quick disclaimer here: Laws regarding prenups vary state-to-state, so it’s important to consult with an attorney in the state you live in if you are contemplating a prenup.
What’s a prenup?
Prenup is short for prenuptial agreement. It’s an agreement between future spouses to make decisions in advance about property during the marriage and in the event of a divorce.
For example, in some states, without a prenup, the income one spouse receives during the marriage is considered marital property, which belongs to both spouses. In a prenup, future spouses can agree that a spouse’s income will remain that spouse’s separate property during the marriage. That means the income will not be marital property.
A prenup can also define future spouses’ roles during the marriage. For example, future spouses can include in their prenup how they’ll divide household responsibilities.
Do you need one?
Is this your first marriage?
Prenups are far less common for younger couples and couples entering their first marriages. Hopefully, you’re planning to grow your wealth and estate together forever! Hopefully, you’re also planning to tackle challenges together as a couple during your marriage. If that’s is the case, you probably don’t need a prenup.
Older couples and couples entering their second or third marriages might consider a prenup, especially when one or both spouses have already accumulated substantial property – or if they anticipate receiving substantial income during the marriage. Couples with children from previous marriages might also think about a prenup to protect their potential inheritance.
Have you accumulated substantial wealth?
Although laws vary by state, “It’s a common misconception that if you have a lot of family money or if you expect a large inheritance, then you need a prenup. A prenup may be helpful to further define property rights between spouses and in the event of a divorce, but property owned before marriage and inheritance will not be awarded to your spouse in the event of a divorce in Texas. This type of property is protected under the law even without a prenup,” Hayley said.
A common reason for a prenup is to redefine income received during the marriage. A prenup can decide in advance if any income will remain separate, so a Court can’t divide it in the event of a divorce.
For example, a doctor with substantial income is getting married for the third time. She may want to clarify that the money she earns during the marriage will remain her separate property, so, if they divorce, she will leave the marriage with the money she earned during the marriage.
Are you starting a business?
Hayley said if a client tells her, “I own a startup and I want to make it big and keep this money as ‘my’ money,” she’ll say, “Let’s do a prenup.”
If you own your own business and have no interest in sharing the profits with your partner in a divorce, then you might want to consider a prenup.
In deciding whether to have a prenup as a business owner, it IS wise to also consider the time, energy, and support your partner is investing in your business as your spouse, even if his name isn’t on the door.
Do you have plenty of time before the wedding?
Hayley’s biggest advice for clients: “If you’re going to have a prenup, make sure you’re working with an attorney so that it will be valid and enforceable.”
A prenup must be in writing – and signed by both parties. And you can’t enforce it if the other person can prove they didn’t sign it voluntarily or consciously. So don’t give your fiancé the prenup after sharing two pitchers of margaritas!
You want to do it as far in advance of your wedding day as possible to avoid potential arguments. If you wait too long, you are leaving the door open for a spouse to argue that, because of timing, they felt pressured to sign it. Hayley won’t even touch a prenup within two weeks of the wedding.
Additionally, future spouses should each have their own attorney review the prenup – they should not share an attorney.
Do you know his financial situation?
Before you sign a prenup, both future spouses must receive a full financial disclosure of their partner’s property and financial obligations.
For instance: One future spouse is a retired basketball player who now works as sportscaster ESPN making $1 million a year, and the other spouse is a retired social media model who makes less than $50k a year. If the retired model does not know how much money her future spouse has in the bank, she may agree in the prenup that, in the event of divorce, she receives less money than she would have agreed to if she had a true and full disclosure of his assets.
If you’re considering a prenup in your marriage, meet with a family law attorney ASAP. They’ll talk you through the options in your state and help you decide if it’s something you really want to pursue. Also, talk with your fiancé. Honest conversations around finances are always important as you prepare for marriage.
If your fiancé brings up a prenup agreement, be cool! Calmly ask, “Why do you believe we need one?” His explanation would be important – and give you both the opportunity to address any future concerns.
Style Me Pretty Contributor – Madeline Littrell is a corporate PR strategist and freelance writer. Born and raised in the South, she loves big hair, country music, and chicken fingers. Madeline lives in Dallas with her Sheltie puppy, Tennessee.