Tradition -- and any number of sitcom plots -- suggest that the best way to get out of an engagement is to ask your spouse-to-be to sign a prenuptial agreement. Unquestionably, it's awkward to think about planning for how your marriage may end when it hasn't even begun.
But as unromantic as a prenup may seem, it can actually make your marriage more successful. By making sure that both spouses are on the same page about their joint finances, you can have a better chance of never actually having to break out that prenup.
Why Ordinary People Should Consider It
When most people hear about prenuptial agreements, they immediately think about the countless celebrities who've either successfully used them to protect their assets or, more often, unsuccessfully used them only to have a court rule that the agreements were invalid.
But the first thing to understand about prenups is that you don't have to be rich or famous to benefit from one.
The key is understanding how both spouses feel about the assets they bring to the marriage, whether those assets are cold hard cash or more intangible things like a professional degree or a newly started business. In fact, the values of those intangibles can be a lot harder to address without a specific agreement, because they tend to be speculative early on but can lead to huge amounts of income later.
In addition, certain perfectly normal situations scream out for a prenup. If you have children from previous relationships, then a prenup can preserve not only harmony between spouses but also among members of the broader family by protecting their interests. Moreover, if one or both spouses expect an inheritance or other monetary windfall, a prenup can avoid what might otherwise turn into a protracted legal battle at some point down the road.
Setting Up a Fair Playing Field
Unfortunately, creating a prenuptial agreement isn't as simple as saying "I do." To create an agreement that will be valid years or even decades down the road, you have to jump through some hoops.
The most important consideration for setting up a valid prenuptial agreement is that there's absolutely no appearance of either spouse being at a disadvantage in the process. So planners recommend not only that the couple get a lawyer who specializes in marital law to draw up the prenuptial agreement, but that each spouse have their own different lawyer focused solely on protecting his or her own individual interests.
In addition, leave enough time before the wedding to make sure that the agreement doesn't look like it was rushed through at the last minute.
Perfect candor is also essential. If one spouse tries to hide assets, a court may nullify the entire agreement.
Finally, make sure that you observe all the formalities. States differ on what's required, but having witnesses and signing multiple copies can help demonstrate that all parties were completely serious about the prenup.
Already Hitched? No Problem!
In part because of the financial stresses of the past few years, marital agreements are becoming more common. In particular, there's been a recent upsurge in postnuptial agreements -- arrangements that people who are already married make in order to govern their finances.
%Gallery-157702%These agreements often prove even more useful than prenups because they are devised after the spouses have had time to deal with each other's financial habits, and their careers and other assets have come closer to reaching their full potentials.
Even if you're not facing last-minute wedding jitters and trying to get out of an engagement, talking with your spouse-to-be about a prenuptial agreement doesn't have to be a relationship-ending move. In many circumstances, having a prenup will be a key ingredient toward creating a blissful marriage for years to come.