Forget Love and Passion
The divorce of Donald and Ivana Trump a few years back thrust the prenuptial agreement into the forefront of the American psyche. The stereotype goes like this: An older, wealthy man has his younger, not-so-wealthy wife sign an agreement that says when they get divorced, she doesn't get his money. Often times that is the prenuptial agreement's only purpose -- but it doesn't necessarily have to be so.According to Jacqueline Rickard, author of Save your Marriage Ahead of Time, a premarital contract or "prenup" can profoundly strengthen a relationship by clarifying issues not yet discussed or resolved. In fact, she likens it to premarital counseling because it forces the couple to communicate, negotiate and collaborate and, often times, discover things about potential mates before they marry.CANDIDATESWho should consider a prenup?Attorney Katherine Rider Purcell, who specializes in Family Law, says a prenuptial agreement is usually more beneficial to older couples or those entering into a second marriage who already have an existing estate or children from previous marriages. But anyone can have one drawn up if there are potential financial issues."A prenuptial agreement can help couples spell out their financial picture," Purcell says. "At the very least, just the discussion is valuable."Topics in a typical prenuptial agreement generally begin with premarital property, establishing if it is to remain separate or joint. Then discussion of property acquired during marriage is covered, followed by disclosure of premarital debt and how it is to be paid off. Allocation of current incomes can also be defined as well as other sources of income such as inheritances.Although Rickard argues that prenups should not be used to plan for divorce, a divorce clause is usually included as is a death clause. Non-financial matters can also be discussed such as how to share child-care duties, set up two-career couple's schedules, housekeeping duties or clarify responsibilities for stepchildren.SHOWING YOUR HANDThe final component of the contract is usually a complete financial disclosure of one-another's worth. Both Rickard and Purcell agree that thorough financial disclosure before marriage is crucial to the success (and legality) of a prenup."If you can't be honest with your mate before you're married, then you need to reconsider the marriage," Rickard boldly states.What is the time frame for a prenup? Rickard's book provides a detailed six month schedule to follow, beginning with making the mutual commitment to contract and ending with the signing of the agreement about three weeks before the wedding."The reality is that the majority of people try to put together an agreement three days before the marriage," Purcell says with a laugh. "It creates such enormous pressure. It really is ironic that couples will spend a year planning minute details of their wedding, such as flowers or the color of cocktail napkins, but they don't spend any time planning for the future beyond that four hour wedding reception."Ideally, six months is a good time frame for working out the details in a typical prenup, although some can be drawn up in a shorter time. The key is to avoid a last minute rush, because as Purcell has witnessed, it can ruin the spirit of the entire event.DOLLARS & SENSEHow much does it cost and who can draw up an agreement? The cost for a prenup varies roughly from $500 to $1,000, depending on individual circumstances. Purcell recommends you look for an attorney who specializes in family law, but it is also helpful if your counsel is well versed in estate and tax law. Your best bet is to ask around for recommendations from friends or other professionals in the same or related fields, then make an interview appointment for a fact finding, introductory session.Once you've chosen an attorney, start gathering information on prenuptial agreements. Rickard's book has a complete sample contract to peruse as well as suggestions for special clauses, such as religious training of children or care of an invalid parent.Purcell directs her clients to make a complete list of assets and liabilities and formulate a loose plan on how things should be set up.How legally binding is a prenup? First of all, a prenuptial agreement only becomes effective upon marriage. After that, it can be amended or revoked only by a written agreement signed by both parties. If one of the spouse's involved is unhappy with the agreement in the case of divorce or death, the agreement can be changed if one or more circumstances can be proved."If you can prove you did not voluntarily sign the agreement, which is pretty hard to do, then it can be changed," says Purcell. "Or if one party was grossly negligent in disclosing assets or liabilities, things like that."SOMETHING FOR EVERYONEToday, many states recognize the prenuptial agreement as a binding legal document. In year's past, prenups were considered to be against public policy to "plan for divorce." Now, however, with so many second and third marriages taking place, prenuptial agreements are viewed quite a bit more favorably.Overall, prenuptial agreements are not just for Hollywood stars or millionaires who want to protect their assets as they jet-set from one divorce to the next. They work for anyone who is interested in clarifying important issues - namely, finances, which is one of the top tensions among couples. Preparing the contract motivates couples to learn more about one another, expand their trust and, sometimes, discover before the marriage that their partnership has unsolvable problems.As Rickard puts it, "Premarital contracting is a constructive communication process where lovers can deal forthrightly with the distinctive factors that make up their partnership and still remain in love."Valerie Kirn-Duensing writes for Northern Express Weekly in Traverse City, Michigan.