Nowadays about one in three first marriages ends in divorce, so a prenuptial agreement is sensible protection for the future couple. A prenuptial agreement is a legal contract between two parties who are about to marry, which details how the assets are distributed in case of divorce or death. Wills drawn after marriage may supplement prenuptial agreements.
Although it is commonly thought that only wealthy couples need prenuptial agreements, even a small amount of assets may merit protection with such an agreement. Prenuptial agreements may deal with businesses owned by one or both parties, assets, children from a previous marriage, and inequities in income, such as when one person works while the other finishes professional training. The arrangements should be fair so that neither party is unequally treated.
The couple should discuss the prenuptial agreement before visiting a lawyer, so that any major issues are hammered out beforehand and not in the lawyer's office. Bringing up the subject of a prenuptial agreement may be a somewhat unpleasant experience, but it is good practice for married life, which requires frequent negotiation, using reason, and seeing both sides of a situation. Both parties should honestly list their assets, along with responsibilities to be agreed on - for instance, whether they will assume the care of aged parents. Neither party should include frivolous demands, such as that the wife maintain her girlish figure, as such things are likely to be frowned on by a judge if there is cause to go to court.
Once both parties have come to terms on the contents of the agreement, they should consult separate lawyers. Otherwise, the prenuptial agreement may be thrown out on the grounds that one spouse lacks legal representation. If the couple does their homework and honestly lists all of their assets and the various responsibilities they wish the agreement to cover, they will save on lengthy legal consultations. In any case, each party should determine the cost of the agreement at the first visit to the lawyer.
Make sure that each lawyer specializes in matrimonial law and is familiar with the ins and outs of prenuptial agreements. The lawyers should also be versed in the property laws of the couple's state of residence; in community property states property accumulated during marriage is divided equally between the two parties, while in equitable distribution states property is divided according to what the court thinks is fair.
The agreement should be prepared and signed well in advance of the wedding plans, at least a month or two before the invitations are mailed, in case the marriage plans founder while the agreement is being worked out. The agreement must be signed by each party to the marriage and witnessed by a lawyer, with each member of the couple receiving a copy and a third copy kept by an independent lawyer or accountant, or in a safety deposit box.
After marriage, prenuptial agreements should be reviewed every few years. They are sometimes are altered or canceled after a certain duration, perhaps ten years. As unpleasant as obtaining a prenuptial agreement may be, it is less unpleasant than the alternative. Without a prenuptial agreement, a couple's assets may be taken over by the state for distribution if the pair divorces without agreeing on how to divide their property.