Congratulations! You just got engaged! This is a very exciting time for you and your spouse-to-be. You will soon begin making preparations for your wedding; planning the menu, going for cake tastings and imagining your new life together. The furthest thing from your mind right now is the possibility that your relationship might one day end. While it’s hardly the most romantic part of planning your future, a prenup is just as important as setting a date or making sure uncle Denny doesn’t sit next to aunt Meredith at the reception.
DO: Know What a Prenuptial Agreement Is
A prenuptial agreement is a legally binding contract between two people who plan to wed. The contract lists ‘separate property’, or assets and liabilities the individuals own prior to marrying. These assets may include things like bank accounts, businesses, investments, land, vehicles, and retirement accounts. The document also details how those items are to be treated in the event of a divorce. While a prenup focuses primarily on your separate property, it may also include provisions for child support and alimony.
It’s important to note that in Texas, prenuptial agreements don’t protect any assets a couple gains during the marriage. However, if necessary, a well crafted prenuptial agreement can help shorten divorce proceedings. It does this by answering a number the ‘who gets what’ questions in advance.
DON’T: Wait to Bring it Up
It may seem a little strange to begin a marriage by discussing how it might end. It may be helpful to instead think of a prenup as a life insurance policy for your marriage. Just like life insurance, you hope never to have to use it. However, a thoughtful agreement gives couples peace of mind knowing that their assets are protected if the worst should happen.
It’s important to begin this conversation in the early stages of the wedding planning process. It can sometimes take months to finalize the agreement. The recommendation is that you begin the process at least 3 – 5 months before the big day. However, many couples start as much as a year in advance. This helps ensure that you have plenty of time to put the prenuptial agreement behind you and focus completely on planning your new life together. Also, it is important to remember that a prenup is only legally binding if it is signed before the wedding; so the sooner you get it out of the way, the better.
DO: Be Honest About Your Finances
Money problems are among the top reasons why couples separate. Being honest about your finances upfront can help eliminate many of the arguments couples face in the first few years of marriage. It can also help set a precedent for open and honest communication about money throughout the marriage. It can also help protect you against being held responsible for debts your partner brought into the marriage that you may not yet be aware of. Failure to fully disclose your finances in your prenup could render the agreement void, or ‘unenforceable’, which may leave some of your assets unprotected.
DON’T: Dwell on It
Remember, a prenup is only a ‘just in case’ document. It doesn’t mean you expect or plan to divorce. Some couples make the mistake of dwelling more on the prenup than they do on the actual wedding planning. They treat the proceedings as if they are actually divorcing and that change in mindset can have a seriously negative impact on the relationship. While you are drafting the agreement, remember that you both are devoted to building a long and happy life together. This is simply a tool to help ensure a faster and more amicable divorce if it comes to that.
DO: Get Separate Lawyers
You love each other and are planning to spend the rest of your lives together so of course, while drafting your prenup you are working toward an agreement that works for both of you. However, if things don’t work out, your prenuptial agreement is going to have a major impact on how your assets and liabilities will be divided. It may also include child support agreements or affect your business.
It can be very difficult to modify or appeal a final divorce decree so it is very important to ensure you are happy with the arrangements before signing anything. While it is possible to write a prenup with only one lawyer, that lawyer has a contractual obligation to secure the most advantageous agreement for their client. That may require them to act in a manner that does not serve the best interest of the other spouse. The only way to guarantee a fair and reasonable prenuptial agreement is to hire your own attorney.
DON’T: Be Afraid to Speak Up
Even if the request seems silly, don’t be afraid to speak up. There are many provisions prenuptial agreements can include that you may not have considered. One such provision is affectionately referred to as a ‘pet prenup’ and specifically states who gets ownership of which pets should the marriage be dissolved.
As far as the law is concerned, a pet has the same legal standing as a couch or kitchen table. Who gets ownership of the animal often comes down to who paid for it. With many couples choosing to have ‘fur babies’ instead of children, which spouse gets custody is an increasingly common question and a legitimate concern. But you may have other matters to address, such as if you are bringing children from a previous relationship into the new marriage. You may have assets set aside from that relationship for the purpose of helping to provide for the future of those children.
More typical concerns that may arise could be as simple as how a separation would impact your stakes in a company or ownership of your business. Whatever the concern, it is best to bring it up now while cooler heads prevail instead of waiting until you are in the midst of a significantly more stressful life event.
DO: Hire An Experienced Family Law Attorney
Weddings aren’t cheap and neither is a good lawyer. As a result, many couples may attempt to save money by drafting a prenuptial agreement themselves. However, most people are unfamiliar with family law and may find that DIY prenups cause more problems than they solve. If any aspect of the agreement does not comply with state law and you later rely on this agreement in divorce proceedings, the prenup may be deemed unenforceable, leaving your assets vulnerable.