The Right Person For You?

The Right Person For You?

Prenuptial Agreements don’t have to rock the boat!

As a divorce lawyer, people have often asked me how to know if the person they intend to marry is the “right one.”  Getting married and to whom is probably the most important decision a person can make in life.

I have learned from my professional experience that a lasting and solid marriage is not built on surprises.  In love and marriage, as in other matters, what you don’t know may hurt you. For too many couples, the spouses-to-be assume that they know each other and the ground rules for their marriages. And some of them dodge important questions because they don’t want to rock the boat before the wedding date.

Money is one of the most important topics to discuss with your beloved before getting married.   According to many statistics, disagreements about money is the number one reason that people divorce.  Communicating about money before saying “I do” will help you build a solid foundation for your marriage or may help you realize that the person you want to marry may not be the “right” one for you.

So what do you talk about?

I strongly recommend that, for instance, there be a discussion about whether each of you will work during your marriage. Will you combine incomes and share expenses?  You should each be aware of the other’s spending habits.  The two of you should also be aware of the other’s assets and debts before getting married and how the debts will be handled during the marriage. For example, you might find it beneficial to know that your spouse-to-be has student loans of $100,000 or owes significant amounts in credit card debt.  Last, but not least, you should talk about who will pay the bills and how much money will be put into savings, retirement and other investments.

This is surely a lot of ground to cover!  And that’s why a written agreement made before marriage can be an extremely worthwhile way for you to discover and discuss money issues with your partner.  An agreement made between prospective spouses in California is known as a premarital or prenuptial agreement (a “prenup” for short).

A prenup is specifically drafted to suit the needs of each couple.  In other words, there is no such thing as a “standard” prenup even though certain legal requirements must be met for it to be valid and binding.  A prenup may cover many issues related to assets, debts, and savings, such as estate planning and life insurance coverage.  (Note, however, a prenup cannot pre-determine child custody.)

More specifically, some of the key purposes of a prenup are to: (1) define what assets and debts belong to you and your future spouse as of the date of marriage; (2) whether any or all of those assets and debts will be shared during the marriage; (3) whether your and your spouse’s earnings from employment during marriage will be shared; (4) how shared earnings and income will be saved and spent; and (5) whether one of you will be obliged to support the other if your marriage ends and, if so, how much support will be paid and for how long.

While some people may think that having a prenup is not “romantic,” couples should keep in mind that the responses to premarital questions aren’t necessarily going to cause doubt, acrimony or anxiety.  In fact, you and your partner may find that you have lots more in common than you both realized.

I know that messy divorces often have a devastating emotional and financial impact for the couple.  It is when there is no prenup or when a prenup is not properly prepared that extra legal fees (and animosity) are incurred. A prenup and the discussions leading up to it are a way to plan ahead in the unfortunate event the marriage does not last so that the divorce process need not be as emotionally wrenching, expensive and prolonged.

Joanne Ratinoff has been practicing family law exclusively for more than 35 years. Joanne was selected as one of the "Ten Most Dependable" Family Law attorneys in the West in Forbes magazine in 2008; has been selected each year since 2009 to date as a "Super Lawyer" by Los Angeles magazine; is an Approved Mediator of the Beverly Hills Bar Association for family law matters; and has achieved an AV rating (the highest rating) by Martindale Hubbell - a testament to the fact that her peers rank her at the highest level of professional excellence. Visit Ratinoff Law Group.