Getting Married? Prenups Aren’t Just For the Rich and Famous

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I know people moan and groan about pre-nups, and at first blush, it’s easy to see why. A marriage is supposed to last forever, so managing its potential dissolution is hardly romantic.

It’s not candy and flowers.

They get a bad rap, but it’s not your mother’s pre-nup. A marriage is a contract, and a prenuptial agreement is putting finer points on that contract. It’s a legal agreement that specifies how couples will divide assets in the event of divorce. They’re not just for billionaires; They’re put in place to protect both parties; and with so much about gay marriage in the news, I also have to mention that they’re not just for straight people.

Historically, pre-nuptial agreements were for wealthy people who needed to protect extensive assets, a business or investments. But more and more middle class people are drafting prenups. A 2011 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that prenups had increased 73 percent over a five-year period. And this is interesting—more women are requesting them.

What do you attribute to the rise in popularity?

For one thing, an ailing economy has people thinking about money more. We all know that statistic about 50% of marriages ending in divorce (a trend that’s actually lowering), so people are being a little more realistic about a possible split. And  people are getting married later in life. The average age of first marriage in the United States is 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 23 for women and 26 for men in 1990 and 20 and 22 in 1960. Because they’re getting married older, more people have actual assets they want to protect in the event the relationship goes south.

But what if both the bride and groom to be have no assets?

Great question. You can’t take half of nothing, right? Not so! In fact, you can end up taking half of less than nothing—meaning your spouse’s debts could haunt you. And again, I want to point to that rising age of newlyweds—more and more people are taking liabilities to the altar—like credit card debt and student loans. It makes perfect sense that spouses would want to protect each other from any liability one has going in. You’re saying “I do”, not “I owe.”

Also, you probably have some assets you haven’t thought about that you’d like to keep separate—like a retirement plan or an expected inheritance. Or what about property your parents may pass down to you and your siblings?

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