I recently read an article on The New York Times wellness blog by Tara Parker-Pope called ‘The Decisive Marriage.’ In it, Parker-Pope explores the research gathered through The National Marriage Project and asks how does being decisive – or not – affect a marriage? Though it is not mentioned in the article, I thought some of the points would be especially helpful for people considering a prenuptial agreement. Parker-Pope writes:
Couples should make active decisions about their relationships and major life events. Showing intent in some form — from planning the first date, to living together, to the wedding and beyond — can help improve the quality of a marriage over all.
Prenuptial agreements are, by definition, a written agreement reflecting the intentions of the parties regarding their marital rights and obligations. By looking together toward the future, prenuptial agreements can help the couple to purposefully plan for this important, next stage of their relationship. Questions can be discussed and answered such as:
- How will property be divided upon death or divorce?
- Will spousal support be paid? If so, under what conditions?
- How will household expenses be paid during the marriage?
- Will having children result in different financial terms?
Negotiating a prenuptial agreement does not have to be an inherently unpleasant process.
When I’m representing the person who is initiating the agreement, I start by asking him or her: Why do you want this type of agreement? What is important to you? What do you hope to achieve? I then suggest options that can help the client to achieve his or her goals and I coach each client about how to discuss these goals with his or her fiancé. Ideally, I will not start drafting the agreement until I know what terms the couple may agree on and what issues will need further discussion.
When I’m representing the person who is being asked to sign an agreement, I am very often asked to review a document that has already been drafted. I advise my client about what would happen if they signed this particular document and ask questions to determine if this agreement meets their expectations and goals. If changes are needed, I will speak to the other attorney and will often suggest a 4-way meeting with the clients so that we can help them discuss the open issues in a safe and productive environment. If the couple is open, honest and decisive, the process can be a positive experience for both parties.
And when I’m working with a couple in mediation who are negotiating their prenuptial agreement, I’m not only helping them to answer all of these questions, but I’m helping them to find terms that will allow both of them to feel safe and secure enough to enter into their marriage.
Everybody wants their marriage to “start out on the right foot,” give it the “college try,” and live “happily ever after.” Instead of a marriage based on cliches and crossed fingers, I suggest going off the script with your fiancé and talk about the expectations of your life and marriage. If you enter into your marriage with this kind of decisiveness and intention, there is a much better chance of happiness and success.
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