J.Lo’s love might not cost a thing, but that isn’t the case for many people. Finances are the number two cause of divorce, which means that for many couples, love do cost a thing. When a couple can’t agree on finances while they’re in love, imagine how messy it can get once they decide to split.
To lessen the divorce chaos, couples should get comfortable talking about money before the nuptials and consider signing a prenup. Contrary to popular belief, prenups aren’t just for rich people but can benefit almost any couple. To help spread the word about how helpful and cost-effective prenups can be, I spoke with Crystal Villasenor, a New York divorce lawyer, to bring you all of the deets.
What is a prenup?
A prenuptial agreement (prenup) is a contractual agreement between you and your soon to be spouse that determines how you will divide your assets and handle your finances in the event of a divorce.
The key to creating a successful prenup is making sure both parties are well represented in the agreement. According to Crystal, many couples come to her and ask to get a quick prenup drafted that both are ready to sign. But the first thing she tells them is that they need to hire a second attorney. Why? Because a prenup involves one person agreeing to forego something for the other person if the couple decides to divorce. To ensure both people understand what they’re consenting to give up, each person needs their own advocate during the prenuptial agreement process. That way, neither person is underrepresented in the final agreement.
Hiring two attorneys also makes the agreement enforceable if one person tries to dispute it during the divorce. While a prenup is a binding legal document, that doesn’t mean it can’t be contested. One easy way for a divorce attorney to get a prenup thrown out is to say that their client didn’t receive proper counsel before it was signed. To avoid this pitfall each person should hire their own attorney.
What does a prenup cover?
The reason prenups aren’t only for rich people is because, regardless of socioeconomic status, most divorcing couples encounter the same basic questions. Who gets the cars? What will happen with the house? Did one of you give up years of work experience and income growth to stay home with the kids? Will you be compensated for that? These aren’t only questions rich people face when getting divorced, but rather questions most people face when getting divorced. Your prenup can iron out a lot of these questions upfront.
In addition to covering all of the “big stuff”, you can also include other smaller items. Valuable antiques, collectibles, specific furniture items, or even pets can be added to your prenup. As long as you both agree to it, it can be included.
“There’s no standard prenup,” Crystal says. “Each couple’s going to be different. They’re going to want different things. They’re going to be willing to forego different things.”
But how are you supposed to predict what you’ll want in 10 years, 15 years, or even longer? You aren’t. Rather than thinking of your prenup as a static document, Crystal advises that you think of it as a living document.
“You don’t want to do a prenup and just put it in a drawer and never go back to it,” she says.
Instead, she suggests revisiting it every few years and taking stock of how your circumstances have changed. Have you acquired more assets like rental properties or grown your businesses substantially? Maybe you had kids, and one person left the workforce, or you became homeowners. When substantial life changes have occurred, it may be time to revise or add to your prenup. If you end up getting divorced later, the most recent revision will be the one that is enforced in court.
How much does a prenup cost?
According to Crystal, the cost of a prenup varies widely depending on where you live and how many assets you have. In general, there are two rules of thumb when it comes to the cost of a prenup, though.
- The higher the cost of living in your city, the more expensive hiring an attorney will be.
- The more assets you have, the longer the negotiation process between attorneys will be.
So it will probably cost less for a broke college grad in Idaho to get a prenup than it will for a multi-million dollar entrepreneur in New York. Regardless, the expense of getting the prenup will almost always be less than the cost of going through a contested divorce.
That’s because you’ll have to pay legal fees for not one but two attorneys during the divorce, and divorcees face a lot of other “hidden” expenses. These hidden costs include things like moving expenses, buying furniture for your new home, fees associated with buying and selling your homes, new service fees for setting up utilities, and the list goes on. Paying upfront to iron out the big stuff could leave both parties with more cash to cover the other unexpected costs of divorce once the divorce is finalized.
Can I get a prenup after marriage?
If you’re already married and didn’t realize before the wedding that a prenup could benefit you, no worries. You can get what’s called a postnuptial agreement (postnup). These are basically the exact same document as a prenup, but with a new name. If you’re considering a postnup, you should approach the process the same way you would with a prenup.
Prenups can be beneficial for almost any couple. If you’re considering a prenup, these are Crystal’s top tips to make sure your prenup is easy, stress-free, and enforceable.
- Each person should list out all of their individual assets and liabilities – This first step is essential in getting a healthy financial discussion going. Couples should begin an open and honest dialogue about their finances well before the prenup process begins.
- Don’t spring a prenup on your partner right before the wedding – Instead, start the conversation early in the engagement or 30-60 days before the wedding at the latest. If you spring a prenup on someone right before the wedding and they feel obligated to sign it, that could be grounds for a judge to dismiss it later on. Remember, each person needs to receive proper counsel before signing a prenup. If your wedding is right around the corner and you don’t think you have time to get a prenup, consider bringing up the idea of a postnup instead.
- Get separate attorneys – The goal of a prenup is to make sure each person is well represented and gets their fair share of assets in the event of a divorce. To avoid conflicts of interest, or one person being misinformed, each person should seek their own counsel. If a couple decides not to do that, this could be grounds for a judge invalidating the prenup later on.
- Don’t involve family and friends – Keep the opinions of family and friends to the wedding planning, not the prenup. All couples handle their finances differently and what works for another couple may not work for you. This document is only legally binding to you and your future spouse and, therefore, should represent the two of you, not everyone else.
- Revisit it and make updates – many people get married young with few assets but acquire more wealth and assets as they age. To make sure your prenup keeps up with your lifestyle, revisit it every few years and make revisions as necessary.
Nobody wants to think about getting divorced, but divorces are common, and finances are a common cause of them. Prenups can help a couple attack the big issues upfront and avoid making a divorce even more traumatic. They can also help both people come out of a divorce happier and with more money!
If you’re engaged (congrats!) and looking for an attorney to help with a prenup, or you’re already married and considering a postnup, you can contact Crystal Villasenor, the attorney I interviewed for this post by visiting her website at www.crvlaw.com or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.