Necessary Or Cynical? The Prenuptial Agreement

by Michael Kabel

Probably no other kind of agreement in modern life stirs up so much controversy. The prenuptial agreement, sometimes referred to (with various shades of derision) as the “prenup” or the “prenupt,” ignites suspicion even while its legal benefits sometimes prove life saving to children and others. It’s a hot legal and cultural topic, and depending on whom you ask these legally binding documents are either a safeguard against future calamity and a deep sign of mutual respect or the ultimate means of goldbricking opportunism.

As a means of granting perspective, it’s worth noting that prenups have gotten a fair amount of negative publicity. Nonetheless, they’ve got their virtues in the right circumstances.

The Legal Definition of a Prenuptial Agreement

The prenuptial agreement is a legally valid document discussing the assignment of a couple’s property assets should the marriage fail. The prenupt is signed by both parties, notarized, and filed with all relevant authorities prior to the wedding ceremony becoming finalized. Proponents of the agreement argue it harkens back to the marriage contracts of previous eras, in which all property rights were assigned as a means of negotiating a pre-arranged marriage.

Not all states have premarital agreements per se. Depending on the legal wording, such contracts might also carry the name “antenuptial agreement” or “premarital agreement.” The term “contract” is sometimes used, as well. However, for all practical legal reasons the difference in purely in the wording.

Prenuptial agreements are recognized in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Even the most conservative legal experts encourage using a lawyer to help negotiate the prenuptial agreement. The contractual language can sometimes be terrifically obscure (especially in the so-called “ironclad” agreements), yet local and state civil courts will uphold the agreements. It pays to have a lawyer navigate the prenupt contract to mutual benefit.

The Benefits Of A Prenupt

Supporters of the prenupt are quick to point out its protective qualities. As one advantage, they’re a good armor against the bitterness of love gone bad. As another, they often provide recompense for relatives or stepchildren shut out of a family fortune.

In many prenups, each partner aggress to respect what the other brings into the marriage – income, private reserves of wealth, and property. This often comes into use when providing for children from a previous marriage, when their parent meets an untimely death. The prenuptial agreement can assure they’re provided for regardless of their situation with the second spouse.

When To Get A Prenupt

Prenupts function best when both sides agree to respect each other’s property rights and enter into the arrangement fully advised of the consequences of invoking it should the marriage fail.

Despite their ominous legal foundation, prenupts are not invulnerable to interpretation or dissolution. Some are struck down because a later court ruled one party lacked sufficient legal assistance or representation before entering the agreement. Other exemptions have been granted in cases where one partner signed the contract under duress or the other had hidden assets at the time of the agreement.