Let me guess. You just received an elaborate and romantic proposal from your fiancé and you said YES! You have a magnificent, sparkling rock on your finger and are breathlessly telling everyone who will listen that you’re getting married.
Then the unexpected happens. Your fiancé drops the “Do you mind signing a prenup?” bomb on you. At first you’re speechless, but now that the shock has worn off, you’re confused and not nearly as over-the-moon as you once were. You’re not even sure what to do.
You might even be a little embarrassed to ask friends and family for their advice for fear of what message this request sends to them and how they will react or change any favorable opinions of your husband-to-be.
Discussions about prenups – or prenuptial agreements—aren’t easy ones to have. Among all the other exciting things you probably have on your plate (like cakes, flowers, and a drop-dead gorgeous dress), this topic stands out like a sore thumb and takes some of the fun out of planning a wedding to the man of your dreams.
Before you go to an extreme and either cancel your engagement or sign on the dotted line (which you MAY decide to do for your own reasons), here are 6 important things to consider.
Things to Consider Before Signing a Prenuptial Agreement
1: Why Does Your Fiancé Want a Prenup?
Take the time to explore your fiancé’s reasons for wanting this legal agreement between you. Here are some possible explanations:
>> If he is relatively wealthy (or has other tangible assets) or comes from a well-to-do family where prenups are the norm, you might better understand why he is raising the issue.
>> Another possible scenario is that he was previously married and had an ex whom he feels “robbed him blind” and he’s seeking to protect himself in the chance, however remote, that you two eventually go your separate ways.
>> A third possibility is that there is a significant difference in your assets or income and he wants to hedge against funding a continued standard of living for an extended period of time if you divorce. Sometimes this happens when a couple agrees on traditional gender roles where the husband is the breadwinner and the wife stays at home with children.
Whatever the reason your fiancé’ feels compelled to ask you for a prenup, it’s important to understand it, and understand it clearly and fully. Once you do, there may be other ways of meeting his needs. Or meeting in the middle without a legal agreement between you.
2: Discuss the Meaning of Money
In addition to asking your partner about his desire for a prenuptial agreement, dig a little deeper about what money means to him. If you stop and think deeply about what it means to YOU and why, you may discover that your feelings are tied to childhood experiences—positive or negative—that formed your beliefs about finances and financial security or lack thereof.
Your partner may be reluctant to discuss these experiences or even unaware of the associations he’s making. If this is the case, you can still learn a great deal by simply observing his behavior.
>> Is he very generous with his money or does he tend to be stingy and selfish?
>> Is he comfortable with the idea of combining your finances after marriage or does he want to keep everything separate? Does he view your money as “mine” and “yours” or is everything “ours”?
>> Is he insisting that you both pay equally for household expenses after the wedding or is he willing to foot the bill for most things if he makes more than you do?
>> Does he equate money with security? With love?
>> Is he generally insecure about how much he makes for a living (or how much YOU make for a living if it’s more than he does)?
These are the kinds of worthwhile things you’ll want to discover about your fiancé during your prenup discussions.
Want a legal perspective? Check out this article on
The Pros and Cons of Prenuptial Agreements.
3: Your Fiance’s Commitment to Your Marriage
Some people feel that asking for a prenup, or having one in place, is a sign that a couple’s commitment isn’t as deep and they already have one foot out the door. Others argue it has nothing to do with commitment and everything to do with a fear that things will become acrimonious and resentful during a divorce. (And with the reality that approximately 50% of couples still divorce—with an even higher percentage in second and third marriages—they have a point).
Read the descriptions of the following two people:
>> Person 1: You believe that—when you marry—you combine and share everything: your home, your body, any children, travel plans, and finances. You believe strongly in having joint bank accounts and equal transparency into and control over those accounts and how the money inside them is saved or spent. You believe your fiance’s request for a prenup indicates that he doesn’t believe your marriage will last and he’s already preparing for that outcome. Or you simply don’t want anything out there that feels like a “just in case”.
>> Person 2: You agree that having a prenup in place will help protect you both in the case of the worst-case-scenario and make the divorce process less acrimonious. It will ensure that your children are provided for and that the income you bring into the relationship will be protected (or that you will receive a certain level of spousal support). You have no problem with signing a prenup as long as the terms are equal or favorable to you, especially since you don’t believe you’ll ever need it because you feel very confident about this relationship and the likelihood of staying married “’til death do you part.”
Which description fits you most closely?
Think about how you will feel in your future marriage—WITH and WITHOUT a prenup in place. Pay careful attention to any strong emotions or reactions you have to either scenario.
Whether or not you decide to sign one, a prenuptial agreement shouldn’t be something you are resentful and fearful of. You should feel confident and positive about your decision and what it means for your future.
4: Religious or Cultural Expectations
Are there religious or other reasons for you to move or not move ahead? This decision shouldn’t be made in a vacuum, but with careful thought about the entire context of your relationship, including your individual or shared faith and religious beliefs.
You may be part of a faith group (or a member of a religious organization or sect) that will not recognize your marriage if you have a prenup drafted and signed. It’s true: some faiths may not recognize a marriage when one partner issues a prerequisite which says, “I will only marry you if you sign a prenup.” They may feel this indicates something amiss with the relationship because there is a condition put on the agreement to marry or that one partner is not fully giving of themselves to the other or to the marriage.
On the other hand, some Jewish rabbis will not marry a couple unless there is a prenup in place to protect the woman. Such a prenup may stipulate a daily amount of money the husband will pay daily to his wife for support if he wants a divorce until a deal is signed. This may also give the woman the right to remarry in the eyes of the faith and its leaders.
Are you having problems agreeing on financial matters? Check out our blog on
The Premarital Money Interview: The Top Ten Questions To Ask Your Fiancé’.
5: Look on the Bright Side
The great thing about communicating with your fiancé about a prenup is that you have a chance to do something which very few couples do before they marry: have a thorough discussion about money and disclose all the assets and debt you have each accumulated.
This allows you to not only have a clear and comprehensive financial “picture” of your future, but to assess any financial responsibilities or liabilities you will share with your future spouse. While you’re at it, make sure to cover spending habits, college debt, insurance policies, retirement accounts, and who will handle bills and financial matters in your marriage!
In short, this is a fantastic chance for you to learn a ton about the person you’re marrying. And, of course, what to expect when you marry them because the ways in which your fiancé has handled money up to this point is unlikely to change after your “I do’s”.
6: If You Don’t Agree On Signing a Prenup
After working through the above topics, you may just agree to sign a prenup yourself! After all, a fair and well-written one will protect your interests and as well as those of your fiance’.
However, if you and your fiancé can’t agree on whether or not to have a prenup, it’s time to postpone the wedding. I know this is a sad and stressful prospect, but the last thing you want is for either of you to have a feeling of resentment as you walk down the aisle and make this lifetime commitment.
Your wedding day—and what it signifies—should be the happiest day of your life. If you find yourself insecure or unhappy about being “forced” to sign a prenup you didn’t really agree to, you will almost surely come to regret the prenup, your marriage, or both.
This is certainly not an easy answer, but it’s the best one. At least until you get on the same page about whether or not to have a prenup.
Whatever discussions occur and whatever decision you make, here are some closing recommendations.
>> Be calm and respectful during any conversations you have with your partner on this topic. Allowing yourself to become accusatory, defensive, or unduly emotional may backfire and introduce problems into your engagement that don’t need to be there.
>> Don’t act rashly or act out of fear that you will lose your fiancé if you don’t sign your life away. Take the time you need to think things through and make sure you feel good about whatever decision you make. At the end of the day, if your fiancé walks away because you didn’t do exactly what he asked because you didn’t feel good about it, you should thank your lucky stars because that was surely an indication of things to come.
>> Secure an attorney of your own, or at the very least, choose one that doesn’t have a pre-existing relationship with your fiancé. You want to make sure someone is involved who knows what to look for in a good (or bad) prenuptial agreement and can advise you on what other things to consider.
>> In addition to an attorney, seek outside support and advice from a couples’ coach or financial planner. They have all been properly trained in their respective fields, will know what questions to ask, and will help guide you to the right decision for you. They should also be able to enlighten you about the pros and cons of having or not having a prenup and may provide some insight you may have never considered. If you’re meeting with them alone, they will consider you their client and look out for your best interests as well as that of your fiancé.
>> Make sure any prenup you sign contains a clause that allows for change. Perhaps you don’t make much money now but you will begin making more in the future. Perhaps you don’t have children now but you have three within the next five years. You’ll want an agreement that is flexible enough to adapt to these changing conditions and still protect your interests and those of your spouse.
>> Review Other Alternatives. Don’t be afraid to explore other options. Perhaps maintaining separate financial accounts is an acceptable way of balancing your fiance’s concerns. The same goes for keeping all real estate or other tangible assets in your individual names or setting up a trust to keep certain of your funds separate. The point is to avoid assuming that a prenuptial agreement is the best or only way to protect your interests. The old adage “There are many ways to skin a cat” applies to almost everything, including prenups.
There are numerous things to consider before deciding whether or not to sign a prenuptial agreement before you marry, and the mere topic can present some challenges during your engagement. The points covered in this post will guide you on how to handle this situation and make you feel more secure about your decision to sign—or not sign—a prenup, but the summation of all the advice above is to go with both you head AND your heart.