Used to be, prenups were for rich old men on their second or third wives. Not anymore. Anyone coming into a relationship with any assets, any savings, any investments, however small, needs one. Here’s why, from Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women & Money.
Prenups are often criticized for being unromantic. That is because they are. They have nothing whatsoever to do with love—only with money. But there’s an upside to introducing a prenup into your burgeoning relationship. You get to see what your partner’s like during negotiations before you walk down the aisle. Contract talks are a fantastic vetting process. I’ve gone into a lot of boardrooms with levelheaded people, only to watch them turn into crazy people when things don’t go their way. Instability is not a great trait in a business partner; it’s never worse in a spouse or coparent.
Think of a prenup as a way to rationally consider the worst while you still really love your partner. You’ve been dating for six months, you haven’t merged lives or made any outsized promises, but you are into each other; that’s the time for hard conversations. And never apologize for bringing up the topic. Introduce it as a fact.
“Things are great, and I’ve never been happier. So it’s hard to imagine this falling apart. But poo-poo happens. We both know that. And we’d be fools to think we’re above the statistics. And I know I’m not marrying a fool. So let’s talk money, honey. What do you expect to walk away with in the event I turn into Mr. Hyde?”
That’s how I would do it. But you have to come up with your own dialogue, something that suits your style and reflects your concerns. Here are a few more things to keep in mind going forward:
Don’t do it yourself. You can find all sorts of prenuptial agreement forms on the Internet with handy templates, but I don’t recommend them, especially if you have assets totaling over $250,000. This isn’t a time to scrimp. A good prenup will cost anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000, but it’ll be the best money you’ve spent, because it’ll save you many times that amount in the event of divorce.
Lawyer up. You will both need your own representation for a prenup, someone acting only in your interests and the interests of your money. Pick your lawyer based on your own personality preference. Want a keen negotiator, or someone who has the ability to gently coax? Also, don’t just hire a lawyer; take his or her advice.
Keep it simple. Prenups can cover anything and everything, so a lot of people go crazy on the details. I suggest you avoid bogging down the document with issues like who keeps the salt-and-pepper-shaker collection or the set of prized golf clubs. Stick to divvying up large assets (who gets what), bills and debt (who pays what), property (who owns what), and estate (who inherits what). As I mentioned, child support falls under a different category, and even if you don’t marry, you’re required to pay it all the same in the case of a permanent separation. Pets should be addressed, especially any animals you adopt together. And don’t forget vacation property, timeshares, and lake houses. I’ve heard the horror stories. A prized cottage in Cape Cod in one family for generations slips into the hands of the second wife or husband, even though the marriage lasted only a few years. Keep your requests simple and clear. It will save you a lot of money on lawyers later, and limit the opportunity for loopholes.
Say no to sunset clauses. This feature renders the prenup null and void after ten or fifteen years. A sunset clause gives a couple something to reach for, because they think they’ve made it past a certain hump and true love can then prevail. I do not recommend this. A lot of marriages explode in the twilight years. Love is treacherous at any time. That’s not a bad thing; it makes you stay on your toes.
Keep legal contact to a bare minimum. Some of my friends are divorce lawyers. They make a lot of money filling out paperwork, but much of that income is earned answering teary phone calls and frantic emails from clients. Lawyers are good listeners. They’re also going to bill you for every single tear, so hash it out over beers with your squash buddy, or commiserate with a friend. Call your lawyer only when you have an important legal question, and never, ever use your lawyer as a therapist. It’s too expensive!