Theoretically, asking for a prenuptial agreement shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, according to the statistics, there’s a decent chance that this marriage may not last. People change, relationships can end and no one can really blame you if you want to protect your assets.
But in reality, asking for a prenup can ignite a range of responses and emotions, including anger and feelings of betrayal. All of which makes your prenup negotiations a delicate process indeed.
And while there’s no real way to predict how your fiance’ will react, you can, in fact, minimize the damage.
Know What You Want
The biggest mistake in asking for a prenup is to go into the conversation without a clear vision of what it is you’re asking for. In general, a prenup is designed to protect both parties in the event that the marriage doesn’t last. However, to simply tell your soon-to-be spouse that you want to keep all your “stuff” probably isn’t going to have a good effect on your relationship. Instead, you need to decide what specific items you want to protect and, more importantly, why.
For example, if you have a collection of heirlooms that were handed down from your great-great grandparents, it’s reasonable to assume that you don’t want these items to become community property. In theory, these items would most likely be consideredseparate property anyway. Just to be sure though, a prenup would allow you to stipulate the heirlooms and keep them from falling into the marital property bowl. (Be sure to understand how separate property can become community property after your marriage.)
Likewise, if you have built a business from the ground up prior to your marriage, you probably have a substantial interest in seeing that business continue, even if the marriage doesn’t work out. You want to make sure that potential divorce litigation does not disrupt your business or put you in the position of selling your business to settle a divorce case. Asking your fiance’ to allow you to keep your heirlooms and controlling interest in your business is much different than simply asking him or her to “walk away with nothing”.
There are a number of do-it-yourself prenuptial forms that can assist in drafting the agreement.
Assuming that the marriage lasts any real length of time, it is also reasonable to assume that your future spouse will contribute to your future successes, including that formidable business empire we mentioned above. Offering a prenup that leaves your fiance with “nothing” in the event of divorce is not only unreasonable, its also likely to be thrown out of court. Instead, find a middle ground. For example, while you might keep controlling interest, your spouse could have a percentage of the stock or you could agree to pay a lump sum depending upon the success of the business and/or the number of years the marriage lasts. Obviously, this kind of structured settlement can get fairly complex, depending upon the assets in question so be sure you understand all the ramifications of your prenup before asking your spouse to sign.
Protect Your Spouse
You may not be the only one interested in “protecting their own” so if at all possible, come prepared with stipulations that your future spouse might like to include. This helps to remove the impression of selfishness that prenups so often imply and replaces it with a sense of fairness. If you have pre-marital investments and your fiance has pre-marital real estate, for example, the agreement can protect both of you with regard to those assets. Your fiance’ may or may not choose to include your suggestions and he or she may have some of their own that you haven’t thought of. But at the very least, you likely minimize any possible defensiveness and perhaps even replace some of the emotional “trust” issues with more manageable financial discussions.
Keep It “Business”, But Don’t Ignore the Relationship
The problem with prenups is that many people see them as evidence of distrust in the relationship. After all, this is “true love”, so why would you need a legal document to suggest otherwise? When approaching your fiance about a prenup, you’ll want to present it as a business decision that the two of you should make together in order to protect your financial interests. The tone and feel of this conversation should be similar to discussing your options about buying a house or deciding which stocks to include in your IRA. Also remember that the prenup can do more than just dictate who gets the Mercedes and who will get spousal support. It can also address a whole slew of other financial decisions such as an agreement to put each other through college, medical school or some other similar venture. By including these more “personal” items, it makes it easier to address your goals, both as individuals as well as a couple. And by showing your fiance that you’re interested not only in your own well-being should the marriage fall apart but in his or her individual goals as well, you’ll have an easier time keeping the conversation at a professional, non-emotional level. Learn more by reading “What A Prenup Can And Can’t Do“. That said, emotions are bound to enter the picture sooner or later, so don’t be surprised and certainly don’t dismiss them as irrelevant. Many people are hurt by the request to sign a prenup, so it’s your job to alleviate those anxieties and give your future spouse an active role in the construction of this all important document. And finally, try to plan your prenup conversation. Pick a time that’s good for both of you – not when he or she is trying to prepare for a big meeting – and do it privately, not in the presence of a large group. Show respect for his or her time and feelings.