Everyone who marries needs a Pre-Marital Agreement (also known as a Pre-Nup) whether they are old or young, whether they are rich or poor.
One lady (in the podcast included in this article from CNN) states that a Pre-Marital/Pre-Nup Agreement is simply insurance for what might go wrong in a marriage. She says it does not mean that either party expects their marriage to fail, but just like when you drive your car out of the garage, you don’t expect to have accident that day; nonetheless be irresponsible NOT to have car insurance. She says the same is true for a Pre-Marital Agreement – it is insurance in CASE anything goes wrong, whether that is divorce or death. It is simply a plan, an agreement made when the parties are in a good place and cool-headed, to set out what their agreement will be in the event one of them dies or there is a divorce. It is what grown-ups do – they plan for the worst and hope for the best.
In the old days, prior to the fairly recent phenomena of marriages based on romance and love, marriages were made as contracts – for a variety of reasons, including diplomatic ties and financial benefits to extended families.
In the 1800s, Queen Victoria’s children were married off to royalty throughout Europe in the hope that those ties would offer stability. Such contractual marriages were the norm for thousands of years. This is not to suggest that marriages should not now be based on romantic love – simply that we should incorporate that part of the old that will make today’s marriages, which are primarily based on romantic love, even stronger and more durable and lasting. In other words, what is old is new again.
Having handled divorce cases for nearly 40 years, I can tell you that a large percentage of the divorces I handle are because the parties have different financial philosophies, but they don’t know that when they get married because they never even had the conversation about their financial philosophies. They don’t have those difficult conversations until they are forced to, when they have a disagreement about finances AFTER they are married. Once the marriage happens, each party has expectations of the other and when those are not met, resentments and bitterness grow that will often destroy the relationship and marriage.
The time to have those difficult conversations is BEFORE the marriage, when couples can determine if their financial philosophies are so different that they should not marry or whether they can, by serious conversation and agreement, craft a plan to anticipate and deal with those differences.
Young couples are often more concerned with what flowers and food they will have at their wedding than planning for the inevitability of conflict. Conflict does not have to be the death knell for a marriage, but IT WILL COME, and it will insist on being handled. Parents of young people who are marrying should help steer their children toward having a Pre-Marital Agreement done prior to their marriage, not because the couple does not trust each other, but because the exercise of working on a Pre-Marital Agreement with trained professionals who know the questions to ask the couple that will help them discern what their own financial philosophies are (and other issues) and how to manage those so that they will, in fact, be more likely to have a successful marriage.
Later in life couples need go through the exercise and work of preparing a Pre-Marital Agreement to be clear with each other what their expectations of each other are and how they want to handle the property they bring into a marriage so that if they were to divorce, the divorce would be much simpler (and therefore less expensive) and to avoid litigation over their estate in the event one of them dies. People don’t realize that if there is not a clear, written agreement about how their property will be divided upon their death, the surviving spouse can find themselves in what is basically a divorce with their dead spouse’s children; this takes place in a probate court action but the issues are fundamentally similar (and expensive to resolve).
The simple solution: Talk to an attorney about a Pre-Marital Agreement (a Pre-Nup), whether you are young or not so young and planning a wedding or even a co-habitation arrangement.
Everyone who is planning to marry or co-habit should think of a Pre-Marital Agreement as something like buying car insurance or health insurance – it feels like a waste of time and money until you need it, then you are very glad you had it.