Prenuptial agreements kind of get a bad rap. Many people are afraid that agreeing to one means that your marriage is doomed from the get-go, while other people think that partners who want them are only in it for the money. However, being realistic about the future and the uncertainty that life brings can actually be really smart and kind of romantic. All celebrity drama aside—there’s actually a few reasons why prenups, which are typically a document that explains what will happen to your money, debt, and property in case your marriage ends, aren’t a slap in the face for either party involved.
“If you don’t have a prenup, you are letting the state write your prenuptial agreement,” says Los Angeles attorney and certified family law specialist Kelly Chang Rickert. After all, if your marriage does end in divorce, the state you live in has pretty much decided how both money and debt will be divvied up.
What if you're positive you'll be together forever? "Still get a prenup," says Chang Rickert. "I find that talking about everything before marriage—including finances and what happens if the marriage ends—is the best way to ensure that you truly get to know a person. I absolutely adore my husband of eight years. You better believe we got a prenup anyway.”
Prenups vary from state to state and couple to couple. Some states have “community property” laws stating that, from the moment they get hitched, married couples share everything—from their credit card debt to their houses, says Chang Rickert. Meanwhile, other states take an “equitable distribution” stance. It’s a little more up-in-the-air and varies by state, making it even more important to spell things out up front.
Another common clause relates to spousal support, or alimony, says Chang Rickert. If you make more money than your spouse, will you have to pay him every month if you get divorced to help maintain his lifestyle? And if he makes more money than you, what will you expect from him in order to take care of the life you built together? No—alimony is not just for the rich and famous.
Here, four women explain why they got prenups and how it did or didn’t affect their relationships.
“I own my own business, so when I was about to get married, it was important for me to establish that my business was my business even if the marriage crashed and burned. Which I didn’t think would happen—and I still don’t think it will. But you never know, right? When I approached my now-husband about it, he wasn’t nearly as put off as I was afraid he would be. I started in by talking about my concerns about the business, rather than by started in with, ‘I want a prenup’ and then explaining why. We have a friend who is an attorney, so we actually went through her to set everything up, which made things feel much more comfortable and less like a pre-divorce or something. Once the papers were signed, I really haven’t thought about it since. And I don’t think my husband has, either. If he has, he sure hasn’t told me.” —Deborah McKinley, 31
“My second marriage began and ended with money. I had accumulated a lot of assets—including a home—with my first husband, who had passed away. Meanwhile, the man I fell completely in love with years later really came to the table with nothing. When we got engaged, I told him I wanted a prenuptial agreement. He said all of the right things: that it wasn’t a problem and that he understood. But there was something that made me think he was unhappy about it. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something just didn’t seem right. Then, when we went to formalize the agreement, I felt an edge.
"Still, when we got married, everything was shared 50/50. We immediately got a joint checking account, and he moved into my home, which I owned and was paying the mortgage on still. I pitched in, helping him pay off his student loan debt. But then, within a year, he started bringing contractors into the house without telling me to get things remodeled. He wanted to get a new car. When I said we should hold off or scale back so we could get the debt paid off, he insisted that we split our finances—and he got the car for himself. When I asked him about how he wanted to get me money for the bills for the home, he said I was treating him like a renter. I learned that he was angry about the prenuptial agreement. He said, ‘You made me sign it.’
"I realized I had made a very bad mistake. For me, the prenuptial was a lifesaver. Had I not had it, he could have come after half of everything I owned. Even though I had to deal with the pain and suffering of divorce, I didn’t have to deal with the pain and suffering of losing everything I had worked so hard for.”—Megan Riggins, 49
“When my fiancé first pitched the idea of a prenup, I was really taken aback. I felt like he was already divorcing me—and we hadn’t even said our vows yet. We went to a marriage counselor to work it out, and I think it really helped us reach an understanding. We were able to see where each other were coming from. We decided to end up getting the prenuptial agreement, but it wasn’t anything that could end up screwing either of us over. It just had a sort of, ‘What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours’ feel to it, which I think it fair. And while he does make substantially more than me, the agreement has never made me feel like I have to stay. I stay because I love him. If, for some reason, that ever changed, I would be able to support myself just fine. Sure, I’d live in a smaller place and vacation less, but that’s not what a marriage is about.”—Sarah Evans, 35
“When my husband and I got married eight years ago, it was both of our second marriages. And I had just gone through a two-year bout with cancer, which really makes you think about the future and what-ifs. I can’t even remember how prenuptial agreements came up, but they did, and we both wanted one. We did premarital counseling together, so maybe the topic was raised there.
"Our prenuptial agreement addressed separation, whether it would be by choice or by death. Going into the marriage, he had four children and I had three. With seven children, there is a lot of room for someone to get ticked off about money. The document discussed who the beneficiaries were and how things would be separated in the case that we split up or one of us passed. We didn’t want our children to end up in an argument because things weren’t clear.
"We worked with the same lawyer to come up with the agreement. It was a team thing, rather than us battling it out for cash. While we both had assets, he did have more since he owned his own business and I was a teacher and a principal. But I never thought I was trying to be screwed over.
"I really don’t think it’s ever affected our relationship. If anything, going through the process has strengthened it. I think that it speaks a lot to the character of both parties to be able to have an open honest discussion about money. I think finances are one of the biggest stressors couples face. You have to be able to be open and honest about it or you are already in trouble.”—Nicci Lunsford, 58