Dear Bintel Brief:
I just got engaged to the man of my dreams. He is five years older than I am, and he comes from a family of means. He also earns a much higher salary than I do. My fiancé recently told me that his parents, whom I adore, want me to sign a prenuptial agreement. I could see that he was really nervous telling me about his parents’ apparent wishes. He also told me that our relationship is more important than money — adding that if I strongly opposed the idea of a prenup, he wouldn’t force the issue (but that could, in turn, cause problems with his family).
In theory, I think all married couples should have an agreement like this. But in practice it’s feels terrible to be asked to sign one. It also makes me wonder what my fiancé’s parents think of me.
What should I do?
PERPLEXED BY PRENUP
Dear Perplexed, First, mazel tov! Engaged! And to a man of means! As Bugsy Siegel might have said, “Jackpot, baby!” But we completely understand your gut reaction here. Being asked to sign a prenup feels like a slap in the face. You’re thinking this is a document that assumes your relationship will fail. You’re thinking his parents want you to sign because they’re trying to protect their son from the hands of a gold-digging shrew — you. And you’re thinking you’re stuck because you don’t want to cause a rift between the man you love and his parents. But we want you to think of the prenup slightly differently, and we want you to think of the intentions of your future in-laws a little differently, too. The truth is that the only difference between marriage and living together (other than an end to all the nagging from your mother) is that marriage is a contract, plain and simple. It’s the reason you get a certificate, so that you can show that it is binding and that it actually exists. And while couples think of marriage as the creation of a lifelong partnership, the marriage certificate itself doesn’t mandate happiness, consideration for one another or long walks in the rain. Rather, it is a legal document that proves that property accrued after its creation belongs to both of you, and must be divided between you if the marriage should end. A prenup is just another type of contract that sets expectations ahead of time when a couple is happy and in a rational frame of mind. It never needs to be considered again except if the marriage ends, which we hope won’t be the case here. Your fiance’s parents are right to want to protect their son, whom they’ve loved and adored for his entire life. Their desire to have you sign this document doesn’t mean that they don’t like or don’t trust you, just that they have worked hard, as has their son, to create property before you entered the picture — property that would exist in a muddier state of ownership should the marriage fail — and lead to fights over who should receive it. Any family with a family business, large assets or large debts, children of prior relationships, or unique or special family treasures should consider creating one. Since they would likely ask Mother Teresa (z”l) to sign one if she were marrying their son, we assure you it’s not a knock against you. Now, in order for that prenup to be considered binding, in most states it must fully disclose the value of the assets and liabilities of the parties, it must be free of fraud and not created under duress (for example, as the wedding march begins if he hands you a pen and says “I’m not taking another step down the aisle unless you sign here”). While you don’t need to have your own lawyer look at it for it to be considered binding later, it is a mighty fine idea to get one to take a look at it. So sign it when you’re ready and then start worrying about the more important things, like the seating chart at the reception. Because in our experience, that’s what will require some serious legal jujitsu. Again, congrats to you and your beloved, Amy & Robin
Amy Feldman and Robin Epstein are the authors of the new book “So Sue Me Jackass! Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play” (Plume).
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