A Common Sense Guide To Prenuptial Agreements

Over the past few years, my law and mediation practices have seen a significant increase in requests for prenuptial agreements.  

My clients, whether they come from extensive family wealth, are self-made entrepreneurs, or young professionals just starting out in their careers, come to me with the best of intentions. They love their fiance and look forward to a long and happy marriage.  But sometimes their approach to the prenuptial agreement gets in their own way. The first thing to realize is that a prenuptial agreement, and the negotiations leading up to it, are often harbingers of what the future marriage will bring. Acrimonious prenup negotiations have a tendency to lead to acrimonious marriages, with long-term resentment and unhappiness.

If you want to start your marriage out right, these are the best practices I suggest my clients follow to make the prenuptial negotiation process move forward with as much ease and as little acrimony as possible.

  1. DO let your fiance know that you want a prenuptial agreement. Bring up the subject as soon as possible with your fiance.  If you haven’t talked about it before the engagement, I suggest raising the topic at least 6 months before the wedding date. Discussing this topic before the wedding plans are already in full swing helps to ensure that the conversation will be less emotional and more practical.
  2. DO contact an attorney as soon as you and your fiance have agreed to sign a prenuptial agreement. I have seen many cases in which the partners talked for months about a prenup but neglect to get the legal process underway until a couple of months (or even weeks!) prior to the wedding date. This is an important contract that you will be signing that will affect one of the most important emotional and financial relationships you and your fiance’ will ever have. Give yourselves adequate time to consider what you each need this agreement to provide, and consult with an attorney about your rights and obligations.
  3. DO expect to be involved in the negotiations. Traditional divorce attorneys may view the prenup process as a battle in which your fiance is the enemy. They may even suggest that you don’t speak with your fiance about it. I never understood this logic. If you want a healthy marriage built on respect and understanding, then negotiating a prenuptial agreement should be an opportunity for you and your fiance, not your lawyers, to talk about your future together. For this reason, I find that using the mediation process or engaging collaborative lawyers to help you negotiate the terms is a wonderful way to help you have respectful conversations that will lead to finding common ground.
  4. DO make the agreement as simple as possible. It’s common to want to address all the “What Ifs” that can happen in your marriage as you try to protect assets and the amount of spousal support that will be paid if the marriage ends. But don’t make the prenup so complicated that is requires multiple footnotes providing examples of the formulas you’ve come up with. Your attorney will be ready and able to suggest ways to address your concerns in the simplest way possible. Listen to those suggestions.
  5. DO Remember that your prenup is YOUR agreement, your marriage, and your life. You will receive well-intentioned advice from the Greek Chorus. You know who I mean: friends, family and coworkers who have “been there” and “done that.”  They may mean well, but your prenup is about you and your fiance, not about the concerns of your friends and family.

If you want a modern, forward-thinking marriage, start by drafting a prenuptial agreement with a mediator or a collaboratively trained attorney.  The approach taken by these professionals will calmly keep the focus on each person’s interests and encourage you both to speak about your concerns, instead of inflaming the emotions and doing the talking for you. If you want more information about prenuptial agreements contact us here.

Andrea Vacca

570 Lexington Avenue, Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com