First comes love, then comes prenup, then comes marriage?
Some three years ago, when friends of mine learned that I was ready and willing to tie the knot for the second time, they asked whether I had considered a prenup.
Hey, friends are good for that, for looking out for you when you might be wearing blinders. Was I wearing blinders? Well, I will say that the thought of a prenup hadn’t crossed my mind, even though I knew that more than 60% of second marriages in the US and Canada end in divorce.
The thing is, the woman I was soon to marry, my wife, best friend, my partner in laughter and joy, was the kindest, most gentle soul I had known and my brain hadn’t imagined, couldn’t fathom, a scenario where not only would we divorce but she would be unfair toward me in any way. Upon hearing words like this, sensing I had floated up to cloud nine, my friends repeated, with more urgency, the need to consider my finances.
Of course, my brain had been dipped in honeymoon juice, as are all brains when they journey through the honeymoon phase. You know, that period of time when the shiny new love of your life is perfect. If they habitually pick their nose, they’re perfect. If they run a half-marathon, smell like a skunk and refuse to shower, they’re adorable. You’re so ramped up on pleasure hormones that even the disco pop tunes they play every day at five o’clock while drinking a pina colada are filling your heart with warmth and desire.
Still, at some point, as it always does, the haze lifted. And when my feet touched ground I asked myself whether a prenup was good for me. And I decided it wasn’t.
Why? Well, being a guy who knows a fair bit about finances, who knows that conflict over money is a primary reason for break ups, you would think I would minimize my financial risk by having an agreement in place that protects assets I bring into the relationship. That said, my gut told me to assume a holistic view of our impending union (interpretation: the romantic subdued the pragmatist, for better or worse).
For me, marriage is about two people wholeheartedly sharing their life with each other, and part of that sharing includes finances. If you keep finances separate, then you are holding back, putting your self first. And that just didn’t sit well with me. If you’re going to say “I do” you better be willing and wanting to step in with both feet.
One is not compelled to marry. Rather, each person has the freedom to decide whether to marry. If that decision is made, then the two people have entered into a partnership. By their nature, partnerships are to be equal.
Under the Bodhi Tree
To challenge Buddha (who would wholeheartedly welcome any challenge), you have to ask whether he would have benefitted from a lawyer and a financial advisor sitting with him while meditating under the Bodhi (pronounced Boh-dee) Tree.
I mean, isn’t it simply a matter of taking care of business that you go with the odds (50% failure rate of first marriage, 60% in second marriages, and atrocious if you venture into marriage a third time or more) and protect your self financially? If you bring a whole lot of dough to the marriage and are used to living a certain lifestyle, why give away that slice of pie to your former spouse after the pillars crumble? Or if you contribute significantly to the marriage in non-financial ways, don’t you have a right to determine beforehand a fair amount of financial compensation for valuable contributions made during marriage?
All In Favour
Agreed, prenups do not fall under any sub-genre of Romance. Regardless, given the close to even odds of marriage ending in divorce, how could you not bring up the issue before the wedding date? A prenup is actually good for your marriage; it may even help sustain your marriage. How so? It will force you to openly discuss what assets each partner is bringing into the relationship, kinds of debts and how much, likely inheritance, saving and spending habits, and financial goals.
The prenup’s basic function is to protect each spouse’s pre-marital assets from a claim by the other spouse in the event of death or divorce. Specifically a prenup may state exactly how much your partner will share in your pre-marital assets in the event of divorce or death (especially relevant to those with children from a prior marriage).
But that’s not its only function. The prenup may also protect assets acquired during marriage by setting a fixed amount for spousal support or eliminating spousal support altogether.
Considering that the median marrying age in North America is approaching 30, it’s more likely that those entering marriage for the first time are bringing assets with them and, just as importantly, debts. For those entering second and subsequent marriages, you likely have more assets, and possibly debt, than when you were younger. All the more reason to have a full discussion about what each of you are bringing to the table. The thinking being that, on divorce or death, the certainty provided by a prenup minimizes destructive arguments about entitlement to assets, as well as minimizing court proceedings and scary legal costs.
Why an agreement focused on selfishness, on me, me, me rather than WE? An agreement that weakens the union through imbalance of financial security? Do the two partners arrive at the table with the same hand? No. One will have less money, fewer assets, therefore less bargaining power. Should one partner object, and the other partner be determined to forge ahead, what is the one with less money to do? What can he/she do? Call off the wedding?
Discuss, discuss, discuss! Absolutely you should discuss money and finances, what you have, what you owe, your spending patterns, values, and financial goals before vowing to spend your life by each other’s side. It would be foolish not to do so.
But why the desire, why the need, to lawyer up and legal language your discussion such that you walk away with a formal contract that sets out ways in which one partner will withhold property from the other, a contract that moves love and trust to shaky ground, one that separates and undermines the marriage before it starts?
Protecting Both Partners
It isn’t uncommon to believe that the wealthier partner is the one clamoring for a prenup. Sure, this may be the case. But a well-crafted, fair, prenup is designed to protect both partners. If you bring big dollars to the marriage and are used to living a certain lifestyle, you’ll want the agreement to specify how much you would owe to your spouse on divorce. And if you contribute to the marriage in non-financial ways, and are sacrificing a career to raise children or pursue other interests, then you want the agreement to spell out fair compensation for your contributions.
Bodhi Tree Revisited
Whether or not a prenup is right for you, well, that’s a personal decision. Should your marriage end in divorce, will a prenup minimize the anguish that typically goes hand out of hand in divorce proceedings? Possibly. Will it make for a more fair settlement of assets? Maybe. Overall, will it help or harm you and your spouse? That’s uncertain. Best I can say is that you should both be on the same page on this issue. If you disagree, with one partner wanting the prenup and the other opposing, and are unable to find compromise, then for the peace and continuing existence of your relationship, it’s not worth it.
So for all you lovebirds thrown off course by the prenup issue, go find a Bodhi tree (or an Elm, Fir, Arbutus, Maple, Redwood or any other tree) of your own to facilitate reflection. Tap into your inner Buddha, share your truth with your partner, and figure out what is best for both of you.