Ask Team Practical: The Pre-Nuptial Agreement

Heyyyyy! It’s Friday, so that means Ask Team Practical with Alyssa. As you know, we’ve been discussing money and the ways it impacts our relationships all week. We started with my post about externally imposed martyrdom, and fighting the urge to nail yourself to a cross. Then we talked about grand married adventures. Then we dove into engagement rings, and what they do and don’t mean. Yesterday was the kicker, with Sara discussing how difficult it is to give up your financial independence as a wife. It’s a nice run, but we couldn’t really end it without discussing what is perhaps the most taboo subject in wedding media: the pre-nuptial agreement. So today we have Team Practical member K, with words about pre-nups so wise, that every single person is going to learn something. Take it away Alyssa:

Most of the reason that Meg brought me on was to help wade through the TONS of mail that she gets on a daily basis.  In the midst of the praise, criticism, mean emails and spam that she receives, there are gems like K’s question.   She wrote back in July about needing advice regarding pre-nups.  Pre-nuptial agreements are part of that scary big “Stuff You Have No Idea How to Deal With Until You Have To,” section of life, so Meg definitely wanted to tackle it.

When I wrote K back to see if she had further thoughts that we could put in a post, not only did she write back with more information but she wrote it so well that we’re just going to post her email here.

Here’s K’s very personal but very wise feelings on pre-nuptial agreements. I suggest you read it even if you’re not getting one, because everyone at APW got wide eyed and nod-y when they read it, and we all told our husbands they didn’t have enough cash to even whisper the word pre-nup (ok, that was actually Meg. She’s sort of a hard-*ss when it comes to money). So. Read on:

Iam a pretty average bride-to-be who is in the midst of having to deal with a pre-nup.  I’ve been handling it ok for the most part but I was just searching through your site hoping to find some words of wisdom for navigating the pre-nup process with a sane head.   I never ever thought I would be in the position to HAVE to have a pre-nup – ever…but my fiance’s family has a trust that he’s an equal partner in and they want to protect it from any spouses, should a divorce come along.   Since it really has more to do with family money, money that isn’t mine, isn’t his, isn’t ours, I really have no problem signing something saying I won’t bankrupt the family if we go through a divorce – it’s not ours to begin with and if it helps us to live a more comfortable life I am nothing but grateful.

Sounds like I have a pretty good perspective of the situation right?  Well, I knew it was coming, and am grateful that it is happening now rather than the week of the wedding, but the reality of the process is not as arms-lengthy as I had hoped.

 A part of the process is claiming all of our assets and what happens to them based on how long we are together.  I mean, I really honestly don’t give a sh*t about his CD’s or 401K’s – really, I’m a big girl and have been independent for a long time.  We live a pretty frugal life and we’re financially stable – but then why does it hurt my feelings so much to hear him say things like, “Well, if we are married less than 5 years and I die I want half of my money to go to my brother.”

I really don’t think it’s the money, but it’s that it makes this union – this combining of assets and moving forward as a team – seem like a little bit of a facade, like if we are getting married he should already know and trust me to do the right thing with his assets especially if we discuss it.   And I guess I feel like our union as husband and wife should feel like the most precious of his relationships – why wouldn’t he want to take care of me even after he’s gone – god forbid?  He only loves me so much now, but will he love me more after 5 years, but not quite as much as he will after 15 years or if we have children?  See what I mean?  All of these different thoughts and feelings are spinning around and I’m having a hard time keeping my emotions out of it.  It’s such a personal topic that friends aren’t always the best to go to for advice… and my folks are such Wisconsin hippies that while they are supportive, they really cannot relate or offer any guidance, so APW – you’re my only hope!  Any words of wisdom?

We, unfortunately did not get to K’s question in time. Plus, we had no idea what we were talking about, so it’s just as well.  So now with some distance and thoughtfulness, K is her own informant, and hopefully the informant for others going through similar situations.

Here is some info about my pre-nup situation after the fact.  When it came down to it my worst fears came true, I was on a boat two days before my wedding with my now husband and we were stuck below in tears on conference calls with our lawyers rather than enjoying our friends and family who were there to celebrate with us.  It sucked.

Here is how the situation broke down:

Lawyers are there to get as much for you as possible and to protect you, but they don’t have you both in mind by design or necessarily the reality of your situation.  Initially his lawyers pushed so hard that my father was horrified and even uttered the words, “I hope M doesn’t understand this, and that it didn’t come from him because if it did I would tell you to pull the plug on the marriage.”  Not what I wanted to hear ten days before the wedding from my father.

Basically his lawyer set up a strict “bimbo protection” pre-nup rather than focusing on the fact that we are a poor, struggling young couple and the only reason we were doing this at all was because of the trust, and it deeply offended me and my family.  I had to have a lot of hard conversations with my fiance while stressed, busy, and days from our wedding – like emotions weren’t already a little high – but in the end I am very proud of myself.  I told him, like I told myself, if it wasn’t for the trust I would not even entertain the idea of a pre-nup for the other parts of financial life and at that point – two weeks before the wedding – I certainly wasn’t going to begin entertaining the idea and splitting hairs about 401k’s.  He waited too long, it was too close to D-day, and it just wasn’t something I was willing to do.  He respected that and took responsibility for dragging his feet.  My lawyers sent back a version including only the trust information, but being lawyers they also threw a bag of extreme scenarios at me that made me feel like I needed to ask for more protection than was allowed with the trust – so we ended up loosing sight of the reason we were in these talks once again.

Advice in hindsight:

  • Get ALL of the info beforehand. After a lot of back and forth we thought we had all come to an agreement but then his father, the one who set up the trust had to step in and let us both know that what we agreed on still violated the trust. This seemed like a lot of work and tears and arguments for no reason.
  •  Know what really matters to you. I told myself before the real conversations started that as long as our children, the next generation, were able to benefit – no strings attached – I didn’t care what i had to give up. With lawyers throwing crazy scenarios at you it’s easy to get caught up and become selfish.
  •  For godsake,  do it as soon as you know it will have to be done and do not throw it into the wedding festivities, it’s uncomfortable for everyone and it really did create a wall between us and enjoying our friends and family.
  • It really is hard to understand all of the legal lawyer lingo – and I consider myself an intelligent girl. Having my father on my team to translate and support me was key, even though it is extremely private and I may not have wanted him in the middle and knowing all of the details, I’m glad he was and so thankful I didn’t sign the initial draft – so get help, or  ask the lawyer to go through line by line in layman’s terms.
  • You may not have a lawyer, I didn’t – so get referrals from people you trust.  I asked everyone I knew who was a lawyer or went to law school until I found someone who was both recommended and affordable (yes it is going cost you between $1,000 and $1,500).  It’s easy to become selfish, for good reason, but try if you can to have some perspective.  The whole problem we were dealing with was that M’s father is a very generous man and wants to be able to give us gifts to help our life.  Only days after all of this pre-nup stuff we received the first gift and I could have hidden under the car with my tail between my legs.  My initial perspective was that it wasn’t our money to begin with, it was the rewards of his father’s lifetime of hard work, so we have no real rights to it.  And if it can help us to start a business, or live a more comfortable life, then I am grateful but should in no way feel owed any of it.

I know it’s all very personal and private info but I do think talking about it might help someone else down the line.

So that’s K’s take on pre-nups, and we think she’s wise. Pre-nups are all things that you sign your name to, you need to make sure that you understand exactly what you’re signing, and that you’re properly protected. “But we love each other” is never a good reason to sign your name to a document that does not protect you as you should be protected. Ever. Women don’t get taught this in the same way that men do, so APW is stepping up today, and telling you that you are worth it. Hire a lawyer, read that thing, negotiate. (Puts soap-box under the bed).

So, who’s had experience with pre-nuptial agreements?  Thoughts, strategies to get through it? And how does this feed or complicate the money conversation that we’ve been running all week at APW? Discuss.


There have been so many great comments today, if someone is reading this after the initial posting date, I HIGHLY suggest reading through them all.

Also, Meg’s husband David offered up some insighful advice; so insightful that we HAD to update the post with it, lest it get lost in the shuffle.

“I might suggest for those of you who are worrying to contact your local bar association and ask for estates and trusts and/or family law specialists and see if there is someone who is willing to sit down with you for an hour or two and just give you a primer on your state’s laws. Generally, a simple consultation would not cost you very much.

I can also throw out some suggested questions:

1. The assets we each have/had before the marriage, how would those be treated if the marriage fell apart?
2. If we wanted to protect pre-marriage assets from a divorce, how would we do that?
3. What happens to those assets if one of us dies?
4. What happens to our personal debts from before the marriage if we divorce?
5. How about if one of use dies?
6. I, or my spouse, owns property from before the marriage, what happens to that property on death/divorce?
7. How can we keep that property separate/How can we make sure we split it?
8. How is what we bring in during the marriage treated? I want to make sure my spouse gets half/doesn’t get a dime.
9. What sorts of assets are federally preempted? [note: there are types of assets that are governed by federal law and will be treated differently from state law]
10. How does the state deal with a spouse that dies without a will? What can a will change in this formula?”


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  • Lethe

    I have no experience with prenups, but as a budding lawyer I do want to offer one thought. What this writer’s fiance’s attorneys were doing – and they may be perfectly nice people, but I still believe this – sounds like classic bad lawyering. Yes, the goal is to get the best outcome for your client. We are ethically obligated to do that. But sometimes the best outcome does NOT mean “the maximum amount of money.” The best outcome is to produce as close as possible to the real, complex wishes of the client. In this situation, a better lawyer should have listened to the writer’s fiance, understood that he wanted to both protect the trust AND preserve family harmony, and then drafted a document that was carefully circumscribed to the necessary areas without implying that the writer was trying to take her fiance for a ride.

    That’s a lot more complicated than just throwing the standard haggling-over-every-penny prenup at your clients, but it’s called GOOD lawyering. If anyone out there is getting a prenup, do like this writer did, and really spend time finding someone you can trust and who is willing to spend lots of time listening to your specific needs. It can make a 100% difference in your experience.

    • My guess, from the post, is that it wasn’t the fiance’s attorney, but the fiance’s FATHER’S attorney.

      • Lethe

        True – so to this I’d add, it may be best for engaged couples planning prenups to each get their OWN personal attorneys for the process. Involving a “family” attorney could easily make things complicated with the in-laws, or create an unequal power dynamic, and they might not be the attorney that is right for you anyway.

    • Class of 1980

      Lethe, I am glad to hear your point-of-view.

      I once worked part-time at an attorney’s office and I could hear his consultations with his clients from my office. There was only a door separating us.

      A man that had been married 20 years came in to start divorce proceedings. He told the attorney that he and his wife were friendly and had already agreed on how to split everything. He said he also wanted to give her X amount of alimony per month.

      The attorney immediately started picking apart his wife’s life history and earning capabilities in an effort to convince the man to give her a lot less. He kept trying to find reasons why she should not get the amount of money the husband wanted to give (and could afford).

      Here was a divorcing husband and wife on great terms with each other, and this attorney didn’t care about their bond or whether he destroyed their relationship as friends.

      I lost all respect for my employer that day. I thought it was sleazy.

      • Ugh, that’s f*cking awfully icky.

    • TNM

      As another lawyer, I’d say this is a difficult issue… I think this has little to do with the abilities or ethics of the lawyer, and more with knowing what your lawyer’s role is and being confident about articulating your needs.

      Many excellent, ethical lawyers are “zealous” advocates for their clients, and this can mean being @ssholes on behalf of their clients. I think you’d do yourself a disservice if you were to look only for a “nice” or “optimistic” prenup lawyer. You are basically hiring them to create protections for your worst case scenario. In fact, their role is to anticipate and plan for every worst case scenario that could possibly happen. In a pre-nup situation, this can get uncomfortable (as is the case for much estate planning, wills, etc.) because the worst case scenario usually involves a tragedy or bad behavior by a spouse or family member. But just because the lawyer is anticipating the worst case scenario and looking out for your financial interests in a very hard-nosed manner does not mean the lawyer believes this will happen or is impugning the motives of all the participants. In other words, I would just caution that pessimism is your lawyer’s role, not necessarily bad lawyering, and ideally you simply take this as advice, not a personal prediction.

      That said, does this mean the lawyers should squeeze every penny out of an amicable negotiation or ratchet up a divorce proceeding? NOT at all. In fact, if you had communicated the opposite, it would be terrible representation. But again, this indicates that communication is key, and as the LW said, you should figure out what your needs/ goals are – which may be a (relatively) harmonious negotiation. Not that you should avoid a lawyer who will be zealous about guarding against – or at least rasing the possibility – of some very uncomfortable and touchy contingencies.

      • FM

        As another lawyer, I would just add to this a bit to say that the role as a lawyer is absolutely to advise as to all the risks and options. So if a client comes in and says – this is what I want – your job is not to just say ok I’ll do that, it’s to say, ok, let me tell you about what you’re entitled to or what people have asked for in similar situations, and what the potential outcomes and risks are if you do or don’t ask for or get those things. Then, after you’ve heard their advice, you tell the lawyer what you want (whether or not it’s the same as what you wanted before their advice), and the lawyer’s job is to try to get the outcome you want.

  • Ooh, first comment! That never happens. :)

    My husband and I didn’t do a pre-nup (something which a coworker of my mother’s, essentially a stranger, scolded me for, which kind of pissed me off – what business is it of hers?). However, when I was with my ex-bf, and we were talking marriage, the subject of a pre-nup came up. He thought he was the next Donald Trump and he was going to insist on one. Basically, he bought a house, and since it was “his” house he didn’t want me to have rights to it if we ever got divorced (he did, however, want to split the mortgage 50/50 regardless of the fact that I was going to be making a fraction of his salary AND had student loans … the post from the other day, about partnerships and contributions? If I had ended up with him, that post would have had me in tears.)

    Okay, fine. Except I actually had more knowledge of the law than he did, and I said I was happy to sign one but would be hiring a lawyer and drafting my own clauses. Such as, an intellectual property clause, which would mean any degrees earned post-wedding he would have no claim to (did you know, in NY, if you marry someone who is still in medical school, for example, that you BOTH have (financial) rights to the degree if you get divorced?), that any books I might write would be mine, etc. I had no concrete plans for any of this, but I had thought about it.

    He said, “But … if you do that, well, I’d be supporting you through it.” Uh, yeah. Just like I was helping to support your damned house. I just responded, “If you are going to insist on a pre-nup, I am going to insist on my terms as well.”

    It never came to that, because we never got engaged. However, maybe, that’s why when mom’s random coworker was scolding me for not getting one (because you have a pension to think about!), I was so irked.

    • Cass

      My fiance and I also chose not to have a pre-nup. Being a budding lawyer, I was enticed by the notion of having one. However, taking a step back and realizing that we have nothing to our names (yet), and everything we hope to accomplish will be in our marriage, in the event of death or divorce, the law would take care of us.
      So if anyone else is like us, just make sure everything you want your husband to have, if you pass away, he’s placed as the beneficiary on, and vice-versa. It’s a simple form, or a simple phone call, to any place where you keep money or things.

      • Amy

        That was a big step for my husband and I when we first got engaged, putting each other as the sole beneficiary of retirement funds/pensions/life insurance policies. More so for him than me honestly, because I had just a little more than enough money to cover paying off my mortgage, bills, and maybe a bit left over for him. I jsut wanted to make sure he’d have enough to not be stuck paying off my mortgage. He on the other hand had large retirement funds, and trusts set up for family members. But we decided that we were engaged, I loved his family, and he trusted that I would take care of them if anything happened to him.

  • Rose in SA

    This is a topic I feel PASSIONATE about! BUT – huge caveat – I come at this with a South African perspective, and I think that our legal system deals with the matter very differently (and now Saartjie can correct me on all the things I get wrong).

    I tell all my friends who are engaged that they MUST SEE A LAWYER, no excuses. The reason is that in South Africa, unless you sign something to the contrary, all marriages are automatically registered as in community of property, i.e. all assets are joint, regardless of who brought them into the marriage, and split equally in the case of divorce. If you don’t want to be married in community of property, you must sign an ante-nuptial contract before the wedding takes place. The key thing that most people often don’t know if they haven’t been through it, is that community of property (COP) has far bigger ramifications that just in the case of divorce. Being married in COP can mean being held legally liable for your spouse’s debt (for example if your spouse starts a business that goes belly-up) and you may not apply for any form of credit without your spouse’s consent. All pretty serious issues.

    My point is not that everyone must be married out of COP, but everyone should understand the legal situation they will be putting themselves in once they are married. So, my advice is always – see a lawyer (it’s worth the money), get all the facts, and then make a decision that’s right for your baby family.

    It’s one thing to know that you and your spouse view all debt as joint, but it’s another thing entirely to understand that his creditors could potentially go after your assets (sounds extreme, but things that really must be dealt with before getting married).

    *steps off soapbox*

    Also – do as I say and not as I do – not the best idea in the world to be signing your ante-nuptial contract the day before the wedding in between manicures and collecting rental glasses :)

    • meg

      California is a community property state. As I said in the comments yesterday, I’m pretty pro. I think that’s more or less what marriage is, at least for me. The one exception is that I’m not responsable for David’s student loan debt, if, god forbid, something were to happen.

    • You’re on the money, Rose. I generally advise people that it’s safer for the couple to make sure that the assets can be divided: especially if one partner is an entrepeneur or otherwise subject to financial risks. If your “estate” is split, then at least one of you can be “safe” enough to support both of you in hectic times (although this is somewhat simplified, of course).

      I think where ANC’s (we call them ante-nuptial contracts, not pre-) can become nasty is, exactly like K, when families become involved. When a couple is pressurised into including certain provisions due to some other person’s concerns, it can be really hurtful. My advice (based a bit of personal experience) would be similar to K’s:

      1. Get all the information from any possible third parties BEFORE you start drafting anything – I got to the point where I made Stof promise that we would not show any subsequent drafts to anyone ever (while hoping vociferously that it will never be needed).

      2. Then I’d advise appointing your own lawyer together (if ethical laws allow you to in your jurisdiction). That way, what ever document is signed comes from both of you. If you’re both the lawyer’s client equally, then s/he should listen to you both equally… and there should be less need for scare tactics!

      3. After it’s signed, try forget it exists. Basically, don’t let it affect the way you live your lives on a day-to-day basis.

      • Arachna

        I think its number 3 that trips me up a lot and makes me hesitant about a lot of prenups even though I’m generally very pro prenup.

        Because depending on what is in the prenup acting like it doesn’t exist can end up screwing over one of the partners. For example lets say the prenup says wife gets no alimony – in certain situations reasonable – but if the couple later together decide that the wife should stay home with the kids… she’s making a terrible financial decision because of that prenup. Same for moving etc.

        So I think its important that a prenup is drafted in such a way that the couple can still make decisions as a couple and make sacrifices without having to look out for their own financial interest.

        • Sam

          I am talking about a pre-nup with my fiance and I’m wondering, is there any way to revise a pre-nup post marriage? In the case that ARACHNA proposed, where the wife ends up leaving her job, could the pre-nup be revised to change the benefits due to change her financial contributions?

          • emie289

            I can’t write about South Africa, but I work at a law firm in Pennsylvania and have handled several client’s prenups. In the US (at least PA and NJ), you can’t hire one lawyer to represent you both because that is seen as a conflict of interest. At the very least, in states that DO allow one lawyer to represent you both, I would caution against it. If you ever need to enforce the pre-nup in Court, the lawyer’s conduct will come into question and the pre-nup looks less valid (since the lawyer is supposed to advocate for his/her client, if ultimately one of you comes off better, esp. if it’s due to changes in circumstances, it could be questioned whether or not the attorney truly represented you both effectively).

            Pre-nups are absolutely modifiable after marriage (we call them post-nuptial agreements), both parties just need to sign.

            Also, most Courts in the US will not enforce a pre-nup that has provisions about child support/ child care. Making rules about someone who hasn’t been born isn’t allowed– since all Court decisions about children are to be made in the child’s best interest, the reasoning is no one can know the child’s best interest until the child is born. If you sign a pre-nup saying your spouse doesn’t have to pay child support, but after you have children and split, you lose your job… most Courts would argue that your ex-spouse owes child support, because that is in the child’s best interest, and the circumstances are no longer the same as when you both signed the pre-nup.

  • Frances

    I just commented on the last post that I don’t think there’s enough talk often about how financial decisions in relationships might effect both partners if the relationship ever breaks down…and then this was the next post! So excellent!

  • My husband’s grandma just passed away, actually we’re burying her in a few hours. So as she’s been steadily declining in health and we said our last goodbyes we’ve been talking a lot about what will happen to our assets should one of us die. I have a retirement account that has my niece listed as the beneficiary because I want the money to go into a trust for her for college as my sister isn’t the most wealthy person. I told my husband he can have the rest of the money from my other accounts but realistically he’s a very financial stable person and will have no problem staying on his feet. So as long as my funds could cover the cost of my burial I would like my money to go to help friends and family with more need. Which one I explained he then suggested leaving some of his money to his friends’ future children (sine we don’t really plan on having any of our own).

    We haven’t started actually drafting anything, since his grandmother passed away the day we were going to start writing things down, but in the writer’s original question with regard to her fiance wanting to give money to his brother if he were to pass early on in the marriage I can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s the kind of thing where he feels she will be ok financially and his brother would have more need? I am obviously without all the details so I could be wrong but for those who have yet to go through a pre-nup or will writing it is an avenue which could be considered.

    • Write the will! It makes things so much easier for everyone else having to deal with the pain of death…

      • YES. Even if you live somewhere where the law aligns with your intentions — say, you die without a will, everything goes to your spouse, or to your parents if you and your spouse die together, and that’s exactly what you want to have happen? The probate process is so much more of PITA when someone dies without a will, you really owe it to each other to have the legal documentation in place to make that process go even a little bit more smoothly.

        Secondly, as has been alluded to in some of the other comments, the discussions you need to have in order to do this – whether the pre-nup or the will – are really valuable to have. In our case, it was discussing what we felt our responsibilities to our parents were that really illuminated a lot of other assumptions that needed to be looked at for our overall financial planning.

      • We will write it. :) Hopefully having a solid draft complete before they year ends. It’s just not something we could focus on while also working up to burying his grandmother today. Another thing on our to do list which was a brilliant (albeit sad) suggestion from a friend who lost her husband suddenly – password lists. We’re going to make lists for one another of all our online accounts, social, banking, whatever and the corresponding passwords and shove them in the safe deposit box so that in the event one of us were to go suddenly the other one would be able to access all the necessary accounts to close them out or whatever.

        I really though, need a crash course in the difference between trusts, just leaving money in a will and beneficiaries/spousal override of beneficiary status so I can figure out how to get some of these things set up. Also, I want to pick out a coffin. Yeah… it’s a bit soon but I saw a wool one that just looks really cozy.

  • C-Kay

    My hubby and I were talking pre-nups the week before our marriage in August. Very, very stressful on top of everything else and hurtful the subject was coming up so late. Although we’re a bit older and have some assets, it became evident we didn’t need one for the intentions we had. We needed to have the conversation about pre-nups to fully understand the commitment and attitudes we have about our partnership.

  • In Argentina, pre-nup agreements are invalid. Some people get them anyway but they have no legal weight. There have been some famous cases lately with celebrity divorces but even the pre- nups of the rich and famous are getting ruled invalid. Everything gets split 50-50 regardless… Any assets acquired before marriage are, however, not divided. I like it this way. I think it’s part of the commitment of marriage. I am also listed on a trust in the US. Nearly all people listed in the trust are married. None have prenups. The only portion of the trust that all are risking is their own share… and in most cases (and states) trusts aren’t considered martial property. So I don’t think my family has any say in it.

    • meg

      Just to be clear, pre-nups are not ALWAYS valid in the states either. What lawyers usually say is “they help” or “they often hold.” A judge can still overrule them and go by state law, I believe.

      • Very true. From what I was told in my arts and law class was that prenups are not set in stone. A lawyer can always argue the prenup was unfair in the first place and ask a judge to have it invalidated.

      • It really varies here, too (Australia). Here they’re called BFA’s – binding financial agreements – and they can be made at any time. So you can make one during a marriage, as well as before you get married. Not to get off track – there are quite strict rules about the validity of a BFA. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to see people make out a BFA to avoid spending money in court if they get divorced, and then wind up spending TWICE the money – the first time around arguing if the BFA is valid, and then *another* court process when it’s ruled invalid, dividing the assets.

        Moral of the story: if you’re going down this road, get a very experienced lawyer, and get them to explain every dotted i and crossed t to you.

  • Spooky timing, APW. We just started discussing this. Which is comical because we both have no major assets. When it comes down to it, I think what we need is more a combination of a will and a good long discussion about what is fair in some crazy scenarios for dissolution. And then a giant beer and a good long cuddle and reaffirmation of our relationship (no, that’s not “code” for anything dirty!).

    But K, thank you SO MUCH for this post. I’m so sorry that it was such a nightmare experience for you, and my hat is off to both of you for managing to get through it. I definitely hear what you are saying about how the financial aspects of love are measured over time. To me that feels more like taxes than love.

    • Oh…wills. I had forgotten about those. That is something I would be interested in hearing more about on APW because I have no idea how all that works, and know that my paperwork-adverse husband will never initiate that conversation. So….maybe I should learn more about it for us, so we can begin to talk about it in the future?

      • Katelyn

        And those medical will-thing (obviously I’m not a lawyer) – stuff like Do Not Resuscitate and whatnot. I’d be interested in hearing if/how people have decided on those things with their partners. My beau and I have talked about it and we have surprisingly different opinions, so it’s a good conversation to have – but I’m not sure how to go about putting those things to paper.

        • For me that is one of THE MOST important things about our pre-marital counseling stuff to do, getting all of our medical and other wishes down on paper and legalized so that if something were to happen, we wouldn’t have to deal with trying to remember late-night conversations and be fighting with other family members, because it would be right there, in black and white. There’s enough to deal with then. It kind of scares C to think about because he feels like it’s tempting fate/really sad, but I’m a bit more practical about it b/c that’s how I deal with the fears.

          • Morgan

            To me it’s more tempting fate to NOT have everything spelled out…

        • I believe the medical form you’re talking about is a Health Care Proxy, although I BELIEVE a Living Will covers this as well. And then thre’s a thing called a Revocable Living Trust, which . . . yeah, I dunno, it’s just words to me right now. We need to do all this sh*t, and I definitely want to because it makes life so much easier, but hot damn, what a pain in the hole!

        • Cass

          I work in an estate planning law office. If you are in a same-sex relationship, and can not legally be married, durable powers of attorney and medical powers of attorney are NECESSARY before most doctors will let you spell out important decisions for your partner. Depending on the lawyer, plan about $1000 for will + POA’s. But it’s well worth it to be able to advocate for your partner in their time of need!

      • meg

        David might be able to write about this for y’all. I’ll ask.

        • Yay! Thanks for asking.

        • David

          Ok, I have been asked.

          A big caviate: I am NOT a family law or wills and trusts person. If you kill someone or get arrested, I might be able to give good advice. If you simply want to “kill” your spouse, I’m less helpful.

          Wills: Write them. Write them now. If your state allows “holographic” wills, get out a pen and a piece of paper, date it, and in your own handwriting start getting down what you think you want to happen when you die. If not, see if there are standard will forms that you can fill out. But at least, try to get your wishes down.

          The thing is though, and this is state to state, your wishes as you actually write them may or may not be legal. The good news, however, is that the offending wish will just be put aside and those that can be honored will be. And remember, if you live in a community property state, and there is not some other type of agreement that “transforms” your community property into your own separate property, then you can’t touch your spouse’s half in your will (well, you can try but it will not be valid).

          What you want to try to avoid is dying intestate (meaning without a will). Its not that the laws of intestacy are all that horrible (at least from what I understand them in CA), but that it can just be a headache.

          So, all this rambling really means try to find an estates and trusts attorney to help you draw up a will. If you don’t have much, that’s fine, it”ll be cheap. At the very least, the process of writing a will and looking through your pre and post marriage finances will give you and your spouse a better idea of how your state views your finances.

          Living Wills: These I’m not so versed in. First, I don’t believe that in many states living wills have actual force of law; meaning I don’t think you could sue on a living will. What they CAN do, however, is serve as a formal statement of your wishes so that there is none of that ugly inter-family squabbling when something really horrible happens to you. What you can accomplish in a living will, however, heavily depends on your state’s (and federal) law. I know there are forms out there for drawing up living wills. Look and see if there is a state organization in your state that can tell you specifically what is kosher or not in your state.

          Ok, I hope my rambling has helped.

          • a) hilarious.
            b) awesome.

            Thanks, David!

          • Tre

            I can respond to the living will portion from the position of a Maryland resident (SW who completed these forms with clients all the time). Generally, you can obtain forms online and write out your wishes and check particular boxes to delineate your wishes in a variety of scenarios. This document is recognized as long as it is signed in witness by two parties who have no financial interest in your death.

            HOWEVER your wishes can be vetoed by the person you list as your Healthcare Proxy. (This caveat is put in place to protect you in the case of unforeseeable events that would make following your listed wishes go against your beliefs, but can be used otherwise.) So, be sure you discuss your values and wishes at length with the person you list as your Healthcare Proxy, even if it isn’t your partner because they’ll “keep you around forever.”

      • Lethe

        Very good idea. I’d also suggest that anything about wills/health care proxies/living wills on here include a little special info for same-sex couples who live in jurisdictions where they can’t be married. Many of the issues are the same, some are different, and all of them get elevated to a whole new level of urgency!

        • I second that! My wife and I are about to meet with a lawyer to start discussing wills, power of attorney, etc. We got legally married in Massachusetts but live in New Jersey and work in New York (and had our church wedding and reception in Minnesota, go figure). Having heard all the stories about partners being denied visitation rights, etc. we want to be absolutely sure that we have as many protections in writing as possible.

          • Kim

            I work at a hospital and help get the word out about advanced directives. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I know some very well-versed folks. Every decision needs to be careful considered with your partner, and there are some medical situations worth thinking about (if you can stand being morbid long enough to complete a living will then you can rest assured your family won’t be burdened with guessing what you’d want, g*d forbid anything happen to you).

            I can ask one of my ethicist colleagues to give us a primer on living wills, if you want?

  • Chelsea

    As the wife of someone with a family trust – and basically the same feelings on it as you, which is that it doesn’t and shouldn’t enter our day to day life, but I’m SO appreciative that it’s there for the next generation and as a safety net – I 100% feel for you. Because of the way his trust is set up and our state’s laws, we didn’t have to sign a pre-nup, but I recognize so many of the feelings you went through. It sounds like an awful process, but now that you’re done I’m actually a little envious because you got all the information our on the table and discussed it. In our situation, my husband doesn’t even 100% know the details of the trust (his generation is intentionally being kept on the dark so that they don’t come to rely on it), and I have lots of complex emotions around the fact that I simultaneously deserve to know the details my financial future, but also have no real claim to the money. Ugh, just thinking about it feels icky. There are day-to-day considerations, too: like when he gets his quarterly check, does that go in his account, or our joint account? And how will the fact that a lot of the money is from his side affect big financial decisions in the future? Luckily, we’ve both been on the same page so far and seem to be adept at talking about it.

    Anyway, congratulations on working through the awfulness – I hope it laid a great foundation for all of your future discussions about money. I hope any couples bringing assets (and debts!) into a marriage will read and learn from this, not just the ones considering pre-nups.

    • Brook

      Chelsea– my fiancee is in a slightly similar situation. I have some inherited wealth and some assets that I’ve cultivated on my own, plus my own business. I am pretty ruthless about gathering information, though– this week I met with my dad and outright asked him about some of that murky information and about what would happen on his passing. It was a VERY hard conversation to have but I am like you in that I can’t stand being in the dark about my financial future. And my dad is a no-BS kind of guy and I think he’s mostly gotten over the strong “we don’t talk about money here” lessons from his upbringing. I am glad we had that discussion.

      If you guys are at all interested in social change, there is a very cool organization called Resource Generation. They hold conferences and share resources for young people with wealth. They are 100% awesome when it comes to actually having these conversations and talking about all the insane baggage around money (i.e. in the original article– the amount of money allocated in the prenup = the amount of love someone has for you). They just held their conference a few weeks ago and my partner came along. He was able to connect with other partners. It was a fantastic experience for all involved.

  • Leahismyname

    Wow, what a fascinating and important article. You’re right, this kind of thing is never discussed in the wedding world, and it absolutely should be. Even though we’re not having a pre-nup (we’re pretty impoverished still), this post definitely raised some questions for me, and reminded me that we still need to talk about beneficiaries and wills.

    We’re already listed as beneficiaries on each other’s 401k and that kind of thing. But the point that the person from South Africa raised is a good one. I really should be looking up the state laws regarding community property. For example, would I be responsible for his student debt (and vice versa) if our relationship should end? Would that vary by state?

    I think that it wouldn’t; I was married before and when we split up, there was no question of assets and debts (mostly because we didn’t have two pennies to rub together). I think that as long as you’re not foolish enough to consolidate your student loans together, you’d be okay.

    Anyway, it’s definitely food for thought, which is why I read APW. Thanks so much.

    • meg

      I belive student loans taken out before you marry are never community property in the US. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong :)

      • Liz

        that’s my understanding, also. to the extent that my husband can’t answer phone calls about them, receive info, etc.

      • FM

        But I think if they’re taken out after marriage, they may be both spouse’s responsibility (I know a friend of mine ended up paying her ex-husband’s student loans for years after their divorce, although I don’t know if this was timing of the loans, a bad divorce settlement, or loans for school that weren’t traditional student loans, or what). And also, just want to remind that any debts one person has (even if not assumed by the other by law) affect joint assets to the extent you have to use (and in some cases deplete) available joint assets during the marriage to pay those loans. So in that sense, you are still marrying the person’s debt, and it will still affect what you get if your marriage ends.

        • Hmm…it hadn’t even occurred to me that student loans after marriage might be community property–I’ll have to check into that. Though if it’s based on federal laws (which seems likely since they’re federal loans), this might be one place where DOMA does me a favor!

  • ann

    My fiance and I are already legally married (long story). We were fortunate enough to have a lawyer friend who drafted us a prenup for cheap. At the time, it was a little ambiguous when/if we were going to get “married for real” someday (next summer, now!) and so it was really important that we have such a document, as our relationship was going to be primarily legal anyway. My thoughts:

    1. This was an EXTREMELY useful practice for us, because it prompted us to seriously think about how we wanted to relate to each other financially. It gave us a springboard to discuss our values (what happens if someone wants a higher standard of living? how do we quantify the value added by one partner who’s staying home to raise kids?). Honestly, the exercise really solidified in my brain that this was someone I’d be comfortable talking about finances with. Which made me think I’d be comfortable taking him as a life partner.

    2. The single best thing we did was designate a person who we trusted to fairly divide any assets post-divorce other than those we had explicitly specified somewhere else in the agreement. If the person’s not available, we agreed that we’d each choose a person, and together they would choose someone to divide assets. Reduce the chance of messy, emotionally painful arguments later.

    3. We developed a system for alimony based on a couple equations (what can I say, he’s a math nerd) and the amount we’d been paying into our joint account for the last x period of time. This was useful, because again, it made us commit to planning our financial future together.

    4. And finally, the prenup actually turned into a postnup. We drafted it before and believe it or not forgot to sign it until a few months after we were married. The laws are slightly different and postnups are slightly less binding, at least in Illinois, so I wouldn’t recommend this course of action, but know that if you’re on the same page as your fiance and the prenup is a stressful formality, you can in fact wait. You’re not screwed.


  • Anonymous

    Our situation is different. I have significantly more money in the bank than he does (like five times), half because I started working way earlier than he did but mostly and half because my family was very generous to me. But once he finishes his PhD, his earning power could easily triple (or more!) what I currently earn.

    So I come into our partnership with more capital but he’s coming in with potentially more earning power based on his degree. What will be the equitable way to split this up?

    Plus, he’s German and I’m American. What rules apply? Would different rules apply if we were to get married in the US v. Germany?

    • It often depends on the domicile of the husband… Appoint a lawyer you both trust who has experience in conflict of laws and knowledge of both jurisdictions! Good luck

    • meg

      See, for us that didn’t matter. I had more capital going in (Law School is expensive), but theoretically David could have more earning power (we’ll see about that). We discussed it, and for us it doesn’t matter *at all.* We’re married and we’re a single financial unit. Everything we earn and save is to benefit that unit. If something were to happen and we were to divorce, we would want everything split down the middle. That’s the main reason we didn’t do a pre-nup.

      BUT. This is something every couple should discuss going into marriage. You need to know what your philosophies about money and marriage are (and if you can live with it if you don’t agree), and you need to know what the laws are in your state/ country. I see a lot of people not taking the contractual side of marriage seriously enough. You may NEVER sign a more powerful and wide-ranging contract, so for gods sake, make sure you understand it.

    • Marina

      There’s no one equitable way to split assets that work for everyone. It has to be equitable for you and your husband, and that’s something you can answer best. :) What feels equitable to you? What do you want to know will happen in case of disaster?

      And definitely get an experienced lawyer to answer the US/Germany questions.

    • ann

      And in light of yesterday’s comments conversation (if you haven’t read it, do it! do it!), remember: monetary contributions are not the only nor necessarily the most important way to contribute to a family. You’re both gonna be working really hard to make this marriage thing work, and, as you’re different people, you naturally bring different things to offer. So remember that when you think about how to split things up “equitably” — even if you’re not bringing in lots of cash, you are still adding lots of value.

    • peanut

      We’re both equally poor and have no debt, and neither of us has a trust fund or anything like that, so for us it was like “ok, don’t need to even think about prenup” – but the concept came up at the beginning of the engagement and led to a convo about our general philosophies on money – what our monetary priorities were, how much we should save and for what, even what our ideal joint income would be when we graduate from school. Since this conversation was early in our engagement, it also helped us flesh out our own opinions on money and ownership (everything we have is shared), which in retrospect was an important thing to get out in the open at the beginning.

      • peanut

        um oops I realized that this comment isn’t really relevant to your question, I just got off on a tangent sorry ….

  • Rachel

    My husband is 10 years my senior and the proud owner of a house, a car, a camper, a motorcycle, a jetski, and a very healthy set of savings and investements. I am the proud owner of MANY student loans, about a third of a car, and almost no savings.

    Shortly after getting engaged, I asked Dan if we should see a lawyer about a prenup. I wanted him to feel protected, to know that I had no intentions of robbing him blind. Much to my surprise, Dan was offended, if not shocked, that I would suggest such a thing. He’s always pumped the “we’re a team” thing, and he is constantly reminding me that I support him in many ways (particularly emotionally) that can’t be added up on a calculator.

    I have almost no understanding of prenups, but I am so oddly happy that Dan said no. I was encouraging it, but the trust his reaction demonstrated has given me even more faith that we’re going to be “lifers,” and that makes me really happy.

    • My husband and I are the same age, and while I had some more money in a savings account as part of a life insurance payout (to which my brother is the beneficiary), for the most part, we’re on pretty equal footing. BUT! When the subject of prenups came up in the course of casual conversation, he reacted similarly to your husband, Rachel; he was fairly offended about it. It wasn’t so much about the divorce aspect of it (that’s just something that needed to be discussed anyway), but he was offended that since we are a team, that in the case of divorce, we wouldn’t be able to trust each other to do the “right” thing by way of money/property/assets/etc. In his opinion, if you can’t trust the other person you’re marrying to do the “right” thing and be morally sound in the case of divorce, you shouldn’t be marrying them.

      I then pointed out that what’s “right” to one person might not be “right” to the other person, and that many a couple have been blindsided at the — uh — viciousness of their spouse/ex-spouse. I mean, I like to think that no one goes into marriage thinking that the person is going to turn on you, but who knows? Sh*t happens all the time, and a crapton of people are worse off for it.

      Anyway, I suppose I’m lucky that we didn’t have much money/property/assets/etc.; I actually think it could’ve been a major point of contention.

  • Mel

    K, I just want to say I really sympathize with your having to deal with these emotional topics on top of a wedding! It sounds really hard. Thanks for the article – you are a good writer!

  • Bee

    We didn’t get a pre-nup, as neither of us have family money, and we’re both still, you know, struggling, but what we did do was sit down with my lawyer aunt and really hammer out solid wills. I’d say that even if you aren’t going to get a pre-nup, you need to sit down some time pre or just post-wedding and write wills. I didn’t even realize how important it was until my aunt suggested it, and now after doing it, can’t imagine not having them. Not that I sit around and think about it; it hardly ever crosses my mind, but it’s good to know they’re there.

    • meg

      Totally agree. You also should discuss what each of your wishes are around end of life care and your funeral/ burial before you walk down the aisle. You hopefully won’t get a divorce. You’ll definitely die.

      • Also, if you’re not planning on walking down the aisle anytime soon? Please have those discussions with your parents, since they’ll be the ones called on to make those decisions. Or put a will, living will, health care proxy, etc. in place — especially if you can’t or don’t want to have your parents as the default. A simple package doesn’t have to cost that much (I spent $300 to put a will, health care proxy, and durable power of attorney in place through an estate planning service my employer works with), but it’s equally important to have the very unfun, but no-cost conversations with the people who would be responsible for making those decisions when you can’t.

        • ka

          I cannot second this enough. Have this conversation with your parents about your wishes, and please, please, please have it about their wishes! Do not assume that since your parents are your parents and older (and sometimes wiser?) they’ve actually gone and done this stuff. I’ve been through it personally, and I’ve had a friend go through it—dealing with sickness and death without health care proxies, power of attorney or wills in place is not, not, not, not, not something you EVER want to have to do (especially when it can be fairly easily avoided). It’s not easy, but please have this conversation with your loved ones.

      • Claire

        I found the “Five Wishes” document to be helpful for the end-of-life planning.

        • meg

          I want to stab the five wishes document in it’s hippied out eye (our Rabbi gave it to us, yay for pre-marital counseling making you work on the hard stuff). We refused to sign it, since we found it absurd. BUT. Apparently my mom and grandmother have signed it, so there you go. It’s a place to start, at least.

      • how cheery, Meg ;)

        (honestly, it’s a good point, though!)

  • From reading comments I’m seeing stuff that makes me think it’s not just in case of divorce, but when family money enters the equation, it’s also in terms of death of a partner. Or financial lending institutions.

    Which is an entirely new way of seeing it, and makes the pre-nup (in my head) less of an “in case we fail” which just sounds sad and not the sentiment I necessarily want to bring into my marriage (but totally understand and since I’m such an over-preparing woman I feel safe with), but more of something that helps out the will/additionally clarifies wishes.

    • I totally agree – it’s gotten me thinking about clarifying the “what if’s” a bit more beforehand, when emotions are (hopefully) not running high. It could be money, but it could also be who gets what (Should something happen to us, and we don’t have children, who would get our savings? My sister vs. his sister – mine’s in non-profit social services and his is going to be a doctor. Or regardless of income, split 50-50?) Or what would be the course of action in terrible situations you pray don’t happen.

      What it think the big takeaway it to TALK ABOUT IT. even if it’s scary and could be contentious. Talk, take a break, then talk some more…

      • Marina

        There’s also the question not only of who gets the money, but how easy it is for them to get. Without a will, legal proceedings will most likely take much longer and cost a whole lot more. Even if you do want it split exactly the way the law provides, making a will is still a great idea.

    • Rose

      Exactly! I hardly ever think about the divorce related aspects of a pre-nup. For me it’s much more about having the hard conversations to make sure we make the best decisions for our baby family, and ensure that wherever possible, we legally protect those decisions.

  • MNBride

    Since I had more assets coming into the marriage (a house) and he is still recovering from the financial devastation of a divorce, I considered a pre-nup and looked into the laws. MN, like CA apparently, is a community proprety state where any equity I came in with I get to leave with and anything accrued during the marraige is split equally. This would be my desire anyway if, God forbid, we needed to divide assets so I didn’t bother with the pre-nup. However, we will be getting wills very soon. I’m haunted by the thought that if something should happen to both of us while my step-sons are still minors, his ex would have access to our estate as the guardian of our heirs. I have no idea how realistic this is but I shudder at the thought!

    • Tara

      Also – keep in mind that different states have different laws. You have no idea what state you could end up living in in the long-term, so drafting a will would make sure that what you want to happen happens no matter which state you’re living in.

  • Mari

    Here’s a question and I guess I’m more interested in answers that apply to the United States, how often do pre-nups work in cases of divorce. I know how well wills work and don’t work (challenges in probate) but pre-nups, we hear what they are supposed to do but do they live up to it in cases of divorce most of the time?
    Even though I earn more and have land and my beloved earns squat and rents we’re not bothering with a pre-nup. Not worth the headache. We can have. and have had conversations about our finances and plans in case one of us quits working or is let go without going the route of the pre-nup.
    Re-debt in the US, if you didn’t sign for it, it ain’t yours. However hubby’s debt collectors can go after community property.

  • ddayporter

    we didn’t get a pre-nup. but reading this and the comments makes me want to go pick my lawyer bro-in-law’s brain about these things. thanks for opening up the discussion on this!

  • Clover

    I think this is a great discussion! I can’t comment on prenups, however, a little over a year ago, after much deliberation, we bought a condo together. Although we’ve been in a serious relationship for five years and marriage is practically inevitable at this point, we were neither engaged nor married at the time and are still not. Understandably, our families were both concerned about our purchasing a large asset together without any legal ties to each other. At the time, to alleviate our families’ worries, we had our lawyer who was handling the closing also draft an agreement between the two of us that discussed what would happen in a variety of scenarios should we choose to end our relationship while still owning the property. Since we each make a similar amount of money, we ultimately decided that each person would still be responsible for making 50% of the mortgage and house-related bill payments. We also planned for things like the process by which we would get a realtor if we decide to sell, since my boyfriend did not feel fairly represented by our current realtor, who is my stepmom.

    When we drafted the agreement and had agreed on the terms and language that went in it, we were both left feeling a little but hollow, like we didn’t believe in our relationship enough to avoid having to create this agreement. We still signed it anyway, because we both knew that for us, it was important to protect ourselves in the event that the worst happened. I can’t say that I am truly comfortable with having this type of agreement, but much like our discussion yesterday regarding money, I needed to know that I will be taken care of financially, since we are not yet legally bound to one another.

    Also, funny story, when we moved into the new place, my boyfriend insisted that since we had signed the agreement, he was entitled to my $4.86 share of the monthly Netflix bill, since the bill is for the two of us at the new house. Since we were already were splitting all our utilities, I thought it was a little funny, but I understood the principle behind why he wanted to split it. So, we moved the bill payment for Netflix over to our joint checking account!

    • Arachna

      So cute!

  • Caitlin

    My fiance (husband-to-be) and I are getting married in May, and I am absolutely planning on putting together a prenup. In our case, I am bringing considerably more assets into the marriage than he is.

    As awkward and potentially conflict-inducing as the process may be, these are huge decisions (how your assets and household will be divided in the event of your divorce) that I really want my best self to make. I want to make these sorts of decisions while I love my fiance and am committed to (and capable of) looking out for his best interest. Having survived my own parents’ divorce as a child, I think it’s safe to say that, in the midst of a dismantling marriage, our best selves will be (temporarily) out of commission. As painful or awkward as this process is now (while you both do love each other and are looking out for each other’s best interest), think about how much worse it will be if you are making these decisions while carrying around the resentment and anger and sadness that comes with ending a marriage.

    • “I think it’s safe to say that, in the midst of a dismantling marriage, our best selves will be (temporarily) out of commission.”

      This. I think about how in past breakups I was able to be calm and quiet and fair and practical, but I KNOW that’s not always the case, and w/ the dissolution of a marriage people weigh in more and it becomes more complicated. There have been quite a few divorces in my family and it gets tough to wade through stuff.

    • Jamie

      I would “exactly” this ten times if I could. I’m also a child of divorce (each of my parents has also remarried and divorced again at least once), and I know that people can change. I’m not engaged yet, but we hope to be soon and I’ve always wondered if a prenup would be a good idea. If only because I KNOW (from personal experience and from work, I’m a family law lawyer) that you don’t always want what’s best for your little family at the time of divorce. Sometimes you’re very hurt or angry, and it’s not necessarily realistic to think that you’ll continue working as a team even through a divorce. Talking about it in terms of a decision you want your “best self” to make is a really great way to put it.

    • FM

      I do wonder, though, if sometimes it is not in your best interest to make these decisions when you are feeling generous to your partner, and before you have all the facts about what is happening before and triggering a divorce. Because what if things go differently than you could have imagined, or your feelings change in ways you didn’t imagine, and you regret signing away your rights to something that you later feel entitled to (and could otherwise by law be entitled to)? For example, what if a million tiny decisions or life circumstances (sacrifices of one partner, career choices, family planning choices, choices about use of joint assets, illness, family emergencies, unexpected windfalls, etc.) lead to an outcome you have pre-determined to be resolved one way, but that resolution does not reflect those tiny decisions? Even your “best self” traveling into the future might come to different conclusions considering the facts and circumstances at that time than your “best self” evaluating what she knows today.

      I’m not anti-prenups, but I do worry about this.

      • ann

        Yeah, I’ve thought about this, too. Maybe one solution is to revisit the pre-nup annually or every other year or so, and make sure it still makes sense for your financial realities and values. This would also probably help raise red flags in your relationship, and give you and your spouse an opportunity to hammer out places where maybe your financial plans or values are diverging before it’s too late.

        As I mentioned above — my prenup (accidentally) turned into a postnup, so I suspect future amendments to the document could be legally binding. I’m no lawyer, but worth looking into.

  • I’m going to add the perspective of a divorced woman who was the primary wage earner. For me, the problem isn’t really the equal division of property so much as the spousal/child support payments in the future. In California, there is a magic number to the community property aspect of a marriage/divorce: 10 years. If you have been married for 10 years or more at the time of divorce, everything is split 50-50 except separate property. Here are the weird things you may not realize, though.

    50-50 isn’t exactly 50-50. For example, my ex and I have 50-50 custody of our kids, and theoretically he and I split the cost of raising the kids, except that I also have to pay his half via child support. Although the money I pay for spousal support is not taxable income, the money I pay in child support IS taxable income. The idea is that I would be paying that anyway if I had full custody. This seems totally unfair to me since I DON’T have full custody, which means I have all of the headaches and miseries of co-parenting and yet have to pay for the whole kit and kaboodle. Not fair.

    If a marriage is shorter than 10 years, there is a formula used to determine spousal and child support, which tends to be a little bit more fair.

    My fiance and I are planning on getting a pre-nup because of my complicated divorce-with-children situation, but to be honest, I’ve been putting off dealing with it because it is so unpleasant.

    • I started to comment before but it mostly consisted of sound effects and I had to take a bit to see if I was feeling that way because you’re paying alimony. (I have to examine myself for sexism every so often). The answer was no, it decidedly wasn’t. I really appreciate you offering your perspective/experience, and boy, does custody make it so much more intense.

  • ellabynight

    My husband and I didn’t get a pre-nup when we married last September because at 23 and 24 we had no assets to speak of. Any of our assets we accumulate would truly be a product of our marriage, so we figured we’d be okay splitting everything in the event of a divorce.

    Fast forward a year and I’m now looking into post-marriage asset protection. My dad died unexpectedly this summer and now the trust that was supposed to go to him and to support him and my mom in retirement is now going to me and my brother. The trust was set up by my grandparents to go to direct descendants only (no spouses). No one ever thought my dad would die at fifty-nine and leave my mother without a substantial chunk of their planned retirement assets.

    Since the trust was a substantial part of my parents’ retirement plan, my mom wants us to figure out a way to keep it in the family so my brother and I can use it to support her if necessary. (It will technically be our money to use as we see fit and she will have no claim on it, but I still look at it as my mom’s money.) With my brother there is no issue–he’s not married so a pre-nup can always be drawn up for him. For me, however, we need to find something that will work retroactively.

    We haven’t started looking into our options yet, but I worry about how my husband must feel when my mom openly declares that she doesn’t want him to be able to touch the assets in trust. We both know–at least intellectually–that it’s not that she doesn’t trust Kevin; it’s that she needs a little protection for herself. However, her attitude towards it still makes me bristle because she’s so vehement about it. He insists that he doesn’t care one way or the other, but I can’t imagine it not having *any* effect on him.

    I think the biggest saving grace here is that we’re great savers, are in a very sound financial position, and were never expecting to have access to the trust money in the first place, so it doesn’t really register to us beyond figuring out the best way to transfer the assets to my mother. Unfortunately, while we have the financial thing cover, the legally situation is rather, well, vexed.

    • That’s really tough! And your mom’s attitude about your husband touching it strikes me as odd–she’s in the place she is because of those rules applying to her. Which I can understand, and I’m not in that place so I can’t judge, but part of me feels that unless my husband killed me to get to the money, I’d want him to have at least part of what would’ve been mine. (It’s really complicated and the more I think about it, the more I’m seeing facets of all sides and jeez, it’s a headache. I feel for everyone!)

    • K


      another thing i learned going through this is that, while i had to forfeit all my rights to the trust, once trust funds were used for assets, ie. our home, cars, business, or in our joint bank account then it becomes joint property like everything else, it’s only the big pot that is protected. Just something that i thought might be helpful for the discussions you are going into so that your husband doesnt feel completely cut out should you say, need it to support your own retirement someday down the line.

    • You should talk to a lawyer in your state. Most states have laws that protect inheritance so that the inheritance does not become community property unless it is co-mingled (for example, if you use the money to buy a house that you and your spouse live in and that has both of you on the title, you will co-mingle your inheritance with community property and the house would be community property). Disclaimer: this is a total generalization, not a legal opinion, and you really need to talk to someone who is licensed to practice in your state.

  • Elise

    THANK YOU!!!! I am so glad you’re tackling this subject, since I have a prenup in my future. I have significantly more assets than my fiance, but (because I can do what I want for a job without concern for money) he makes significantly more than I do on a day-to-day basis. He’s the one who brought up the idea of a prenup, which I am so grateful for- it’s still such a taboo subject, and since it’s not family money that we’d be protecting, I didn’t have the excuse of someone else requiring it. But that also means that I don’t have anyone around me with experience in how to handle a prenup, so just reading the stories and comments of others is hugely helpful to make it seem more normal to me. Who knew that student loans could be considered communal property?

    My question to the group is whether anyone has tried one of those pre-made, fill-in-the-blank forms for a prenup/will/etc. packages that claim to help you work through things and then you just pay to have it filed? Being frugal (or cheap, you decide), I cringe at the idea of spending $1500 to draft a prenup (our whole wedding budget is only $5-6K), but I also don’t want to draft a document that will only cause us more headaches down the road because it wasn’t done properly. Sigh. Does anyone know of a good prenup lawyer in Wisconsin?

    • Lethe

      This is the perspective of a newbie lawyer, so of course take it with a grain of salt, but – personally I would advise my friends NOT to use the will forms out there (I haven’t seen a prenup one yet, but I imagine the same issues apply). There is one exception: if you have an unusual situation that the intestacy laws (the laws that automatically distribute property after death in situations where the person didn’t have a will) would not deal with in the way that you want, the form wills might be better. For example, for same-sex couples who can’t marry in their state, if they die with no will all of their property will go to their living parents. If you are estranged from your parents, you definitely don’t want that. In that case a form will is FAR better than nothing, and anyone in that situation should create one right away.

      That said, the form wills can’t come at all close to capturing the complexity of your wishes, often include extraneous things they really shouldn’t that could confuse the probate court, and won’t indicate to you all the ways that the document can flexibly capture your needs. Wills can do things you might not even know they can do! So I really think it’s best to find an attorney with reasonable pricing.

    • Tina

      I wrote about this once before in the comments when it came up. I won’t go into all the details again. However, my dad waited until way way way to late in the final stages of his cancer to start worrying about his property and such. He wanted to create a revocable trust and used the pre-made forms from Suzie Orman. Later when things were trying to be rectified after a family disaster where an uncle took advantage of the whole situation, the lawyer asked who wrote such a bad document. I was angry and embarrassed, but learned a valuable lesson. If it’s all you have for the moment, do it, but don’t let it be a final document. That’s just my two cents.

    • Eve


      I am a family law attorney in NY (newly engaged) and I would suggest that you go to the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys website ( and look up an attorney practicing in your state. Members of this organization are attorneys with many years experience who must be nominated, etc.


  • I feel like this is such a brave post. I know that I would not be able to go through what K went through and still manage to get married. I also know that I wouldn’t be able to talk about it in such an honest way. So thank you! I really appreciate your willingness to share. :)

  • Estrella

    Wow, this post has touched such a nerve. Money, for us, like for many of your out there, is a rather taboo topic in our relationship. I have no problem talking about money, but that’s probably do to the fact that I have some. I have a reasonable 403b and have worked really hard to save as much as I can, which includes a chunk of money my grandmother left to me when she passed away. This is due in large part to the fact that I am blessed to have gotten the financial support of my parents to go to college and was able to pay for grad school on my own, leaving me free from debt and student loans. My husband on the other hand, is not so lucky. He has what feels to him to be an insurmountable amount of student loans and no savings whatsoever. He’s made it clear that his student loans are his student loans and he would never ask for help paying them off (which, personally, I would be okay helping him with but I’ve gotta respect his pride.) Whenever the topic of money comes up, he completely shuts down. Clearly, this is something we need to work on and will probably continue to work on throughout our marriage. We are looking into getting some financial counseling but this is a challenge. 1, because it’s expensive. And 2, because well, with money so difficult for my husband, it makes the research and planning to meet with someone more than a tad challenging, and to be honest, we’ve put if off. Before we got engaged, I attempted to have the difficult prep-nup conversation. I hate the idea of it, the mistrust that could be implied, but I also think that the savings from my grandmother should go to my sister if anything happens to me or our marriage. My husband never met my grandmother and that just feels right to me. And I guess this is where I differ from some of the comments. I don’t think my marriage comes first no matter what. My parents, sister and I are all extremely close and our unit as a family is incredibly strong. Yes, my husband is now a part of this too, and we have our own separate marriage family as well (OK, the nerd is me is picturing a venn diagram here). I’d like to think that he would do the right thing should something happen to me/us, but I also believe that there are some things you just can’t foresee. Maybe that makes the whole idea of the pre-nup a moot point. I don’t know. But I also know that my husband and I have different perspectives on marriage and I think that’s a bigger part of this conversation. I see marriage as a beautiful union that we are blessed to share and I hope will share for a long long time. He’s in this FOREVER. I would like to be that hopeful but I am a total realist and I know that people change and love shifts and well, you never know. So maybe a pre-nup is like marriage insurance. You’d like to think that both parties will be responsible, tell the truth, and look out for each other’s best interest, but that isn’t always the case. Should the worst things happen to me/us, I don’t think anyone will be thinking rationally. Maybe what we need here is more of a will than a pre-nup and that would diffuse some of the tension, given that the term has become such a taboo. I would love to know if anyone out there has been successful working with a financial counselor with their partner, who both understands both the nitty gritty details of joining your finances and the emotional challenges/baggage that we bring to those conversations. Ladies?

    • start talking sister. go see a financial counselor, go see a pre-marital counselor, whatever it looks like, but start the conversation with him.

      • Estrella

        Oh yeah, this is definitely in the cards. It’s just hard to know where to start! There are a million people out there offering their financial services and knowing that this is going to be a hard conversation for us, I’d like to prevent a lot of mismatched attempts, if possible.

        • meg

          I think you guys should go to couples counseling first, to try to get him to open up about money. You guys have to talk about this, or it could take you down, for real. The thing about student loans is, yeah, David’s loans are David’s loans. But he can’t pay them off by himself. First of all, our money is shared. Second of all, our financial goals are shared. Loan payments affect the rest of the budget – how much we pay on loans affects how much we can save for a down payment. How much we have in outstanding loan debt affects how much mortgage debt we might want to take on. Etc. So, while they are technically not community property, realistically, I would feel it was bad financial management for us not to not treat them as community property.

          But most importantly you guys need to start figuring out what your common ground is on both finances, and on marriage. You shouldn’t be walking down that aisle till you’ve really aligned your ideas of forever and finances. You may never see eye to eye, but you need to really understand each other, and have begun the lifelong discussion you’ll have on these topics.

          As for family, while I love my family of origin, and want to protect and care for them, my husband comes first. He has to. So for us that means, maybe I will some of my assets to my sister. But I only do that if and when my husband agrees. Because they are his assets too.

          • Marina

            “Loan payments affect the rest of the budget”

            This. I told my husband (after prompting on APW! *grin*) that I honestly was not comfortable with not contributing to paying down his loans. He was focusing on paying down his loans and was not able to contribute to our joint savings goals, which meant I felt like I was bankrolling something that was supposed to be a joint goal. Also, if the two of us ever need to get a loan together (mortgage anyone?) his debt will affect that. It wasn’t about whether I wanted to help him, or whether I thought he could do it himself, or anything like that–it was that being married means your finances affect each other, whether you want them to or not. For me, being told that I couldn’t participate to the fullest extent possible in finances that affect us both was disempowering and scary.

            I agree with the couples counseling idea. This isn’t a money issue, it’s a communication/emotional issue. You don’t have to agree on finances to get married, but I do think you have to be able to talk about it.

          • In some states, student loan debt can become community if the community shares/pays for the debt and the community benefits over a period of time from the education. (So, for example, if David gets a job as a lawyer and uses his law school education to benefit the community over several years, the community has benefited from the education.) But these are legal arguments based on case law and can go either way depending on the judge, the arguments, the facts, etc., etc. Also, it is only relevant in the event of a death or divorce.

          • ann

            Exactly, Meg! I totally agree. By the time I graduate college, I will have taken out probably $50-70k in private student loans alone. My fiance has responded to this situation by getting a well-paying job he feels neutrally about so he can pay off my loans as fast as I can take them out. I was really really uncomfortable with this at first, but I came round by realizing that my debt will have a serious impact on the kind of life we can share together. Personally, I think it’s unfair to “hold us back” so to speak, when it’s not actually necessary. The plan is now that he pays off the loans, and our pre/post nup specifies a plan for me to pay him we were to divorce.

        • I completely agree with Meg and the others on this one. When we got married, I was just out of college and looking for a job (ok, that was only two months ago so I’m still looking). My husband is the sole wage earner for now but I came into the marriage with more savings and no debt. Once i secure a job, I feel that for financial planning reasons, I must help pay down his loans. For one, I don’t want him paying back student loans when we’re in our 40s and two, it definitely does affect the rest of our budget and will affect future joint purchases such as cars and a home. So even if loans that were accumulated before the marriage may not affect you post marriage, it definitely will affect you and your joint budget in your marriage.

    • Family is super, super important to me to. I grew up where we all financially cared for each other (divorced parents) and watched out. We still do. I will care for my mother when she is old. C understands that b/c he’ll care for his too (WE will care for OURS). So I get that, and we discuss that. But we make those decisions together, after a lot of conversation. They take a long time, but it’s important that all of our financial goals are united, even those saying who gets what percentage of my HSA.

  • Michele

    I don’t have a pre-nup, but the way I look at them is this: designing and signing one is not in any way, shape or form an indication that one or both of you do not take the marriage seriously, or that you’re planning for it to end before it even starts. Nor do I think they undermine the “romance” of getting married.

    Actually, in some ways, I think it’s one of the most romantic (and practical!) things that a couple can do together, for each other. The fact is, some marriages DO end – everyone knows that. But almost no one can even fathom the idea that THEIRS could be one of them, nor should they.

    But because we know that marriages do sometimes end, and that all to often the process turns ugly – bringing out the absolute worst in people – I think one of the kindest, most wise things that we could possibly do is to agree on the terms when we’re at our best – full of love and respect for ourselves and our partner.

    Doing so protects absolutely everyone involved, and isn’t that one of the vows that so many of us take on our wedding day? To protect our partner?

  • Class of 1980

    I am interested in trusts and prenups to protect existing children.

    First, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ever had to sign one if I remarry just because of my age bracket and the real possibility that the guy would have a child to protect.

    Second, when I was in my twenties, my father got remarried a girl who is one year younger than I am. So they’ve been married for over 20 years now. She has made the statement before that “the wife gets everything if the husband dies.”

    Well, they own a house together, they pay certain household bills together, but they keep everything else apart. She is building her own retirement fund and he is retired with a good pension and a healthy amount of savings.

    What pisses me off as his daughter is that he could have put his money into a trust that gives her access to it after his death, but does not allow her mingle it with her money or pass it on to her relatives after her death.

    I will never bring this up to my father, but my sister and I know exactly what is going to happen. She will pass on my father’s money to her own family and his own children will never see it. I’m more angry at my father for allowing it than I am at her for taking advantage of his stupidity.

    • Michele

      Does your father have a will? If he does, this could very well be a non-issue, as your step-mom is referring to intestate succession. And even then, she might not be right. Several states do indeed convey all real property and assets to the surviving spouse, but some split them between the surviving spouse and surviving children from previous relationships.

      • Class of 1980


        Okay, here is how lame my father is …

        He retired at 50-something because he could. At that time, he told my sister that he set up his will this way:

        If he dies, everything goes to his wife. If she dies, everything goes to my sister. If my sister dies, everything goes to me. My brother wasn’t mentioned at all.

        Pretty effing stupid.

        He is 73 now and may have changed his will since then. I don’t know. But we’ve had over 20 years to get to know his wife and it’s hard to explain, but we know she will try to secure whatever she can for her family.

        Dad is impossible to be married to, yet she holds on. We think she is telling herself that since she’s held on this long, she might as well hold on to the end and gain the money.

    • Class of 1980

      To clarify – my dad’s wife does not have any children – this was a first marriage for her.

      My father’s money consists of a large lump sum he got at retirement in addition to a good yearly pension.

      His wife will pass my dads’ money on to her sister and two nephews.

      Even worse, is that her sister is financially well off and the nephews have been utterly spoiled. Whereas my father has always been selfish about helping his own children. Now he can ignore us even in death.

      There is just something so wrong about the money my father earned throughout his life passing on to people who are no relation to him when he has offspring of his own. This is what trusts are for.

      • Melissa

        If you feel this strongly about it, you should talk to him. There is such a feeling that “it’s none of my business” when it comes to our parents money – but I think we have a right to know. My dad died with no will and everything went to my stepmom, my brother and I got nothing unless she wanted us to have it. The experience led to an open dialogue between me and my mom about her wishes but also how she is preparing for long term care as she gets older, etc.

        Those left behind when someone dies have every right to know what’s in the bag they will be left holding. It’s not about greed or entitlement but about being open, prepared and respectful.

        • Class of 1980

          Melissa, my father and I are not even talking as of a year ago. He causes so much emotional stress that he isn’t good for my health. Prior to this, he and my sister hadn’t spoken for four years until recently, so this is nothing new. I am not sure if we will reunite ever again.

          My feeling on this is that he has none of the natural instincts a father should have to protect their own children. He doesn’t care. His main concern in life is himself. So, I’m not going to say anything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not pissed off. Really, the whole will thing is just part and parcel of a long-term pattern of behavior.

          If he were mentally and emotionally stable, it might be worth the talk. But it’s not the case.

          The only good that has come of this is to make me think about what I would do if I were in his wife’s place. Like her, I have no children of my own, but there is no way I would divert an inheritance away from a husband’s own child.

          • Class of 1980

            I am convinced my father has “Borderline Personality Disorder”. In a long letter to him, I advised him to get therapy, or risk alienating more people in his life. He was insulted. I don’t ever see him seeking help even though he has left a trail of distress in his wake throughout his life.

            My mother thinks he has a chemical imbalance. I think it’s a mix of mental/emotional issues and plain selfishness. He came from a dysfunctional family.

            Mentally ill parent – now there’s a subject for ya.

      • That is seriously my deepest fear. I really hope my dad and step have a prenup, but he won’t discuss it.

        • Class of 1980

          We could start a group called “Neglected Offspring”, except we probably couldn’t cope with the sheer number of members pouring in.


          • Aiyana

            Based on ClassOf1980’s comment about mental illness, I suggest we have a post/discussion about dealing with mental or physical illness in our marriages (one of the spouses). I don’t have any personal experience in that, but I’m sure it is tough and raises some questions for folks. Thanks for yet another great conversation here, ladies!

  • I’m engaged now, and we won’t have a prenup. There’s not much there, and while he is bringing in a bit more savings to the equation, our incomes are eerily similar and we handle money in a pretty similar fashion (okay, I like to spend the extra dinero on the laundry detergent that is earth-friendly and he doesn’t, but other than that, we don’t really have ‘money’ issues.) I will be paying off the remains of my car loan before we get married, but we are already seeing money as ‘ours,’ i.e. ‘Let’s pay off your car loan,’ nor ‘You should pay off your car loan.’ BUT this is a great time to think about the ‘what-ifs’ and clarifying our wishes with each other and making plans when, as one commenter said before, “our best selves are temporarily out of commission.” That could happen at a lot of points in life, not just in divorce.

    This also made me think about how I see money and marriage. My parents recently divorced after 28+ years of marriage, and my mom was destroyed financially, for a lot of reasons, the biggest two were that my Dad was struggling with addiction, and he had always handled the finances, so she had no idea how bad things had gotten. She and I have talked about it, and my Dad, who is now in recovery, and I have talked about it and they both wish that they had been more open about where they were. It was so much pressure for my Dad when things started to go south and my Mom didn’t have any idea, so she didn’t adjust her spending and my sister and I didn’t know, so we didn’t offer (to do things like pay for college, etc.) Which is kind of funny, because all of us are hard-working and the opposite of entitled, so it wouldn’t have really bothered me, her, or my sister if we were told to tighten the belts (but that would have been impossible to disclose because of the addiction part of the situation). But a lot of pride/shame was wrapped up in it for my Dad and my Mom didn’t realize how in the dark she was, or make an effort to get out of the dark.

    Long story short, before I was engaged, there was no money sharing with my now-fiance. None. I needed the financial protection of marriage, though I do realize it’s not bullet-proof. But now that we’re engaged, and jointly planning/paying for the wedding, we might combine before we’re married, just for ease. I’m surprised at how comfortable I am with the idea, especially given my past and my past feelings on it. I think it’s a testament to my trust in my future partner, and he does know about my insecurities and we are very open about it. It’s amazing how much openness and communication can help quell old hurts and fears. We talk about it, take a pause, then talk some more. I can say “hey, that scared the sh*t out of me.” and he can say “okay, let’s not do it that way.” or “what are you scared of?” and we can talk it through. I learned from my parents’ example that’s the way to do marriage.

    Again, thanks for such a wonderful post.

    • holy crap, longest comment ever. my bad.

      • Sarah::Jackson Riley, I was moved to hear about your your journey regarding finances and your relationship. Thanks for talking about your experience. :)

    • Estrella

      My husband and I just set up a joint account the other day and I gotta tell you, it was the most freeing feeling! It relieved so much stress, much of which I didn’t even realize was there. I think it was because we are both proud and independent and tried to be all 50/50 to a tee, which was just a drag sometimes and kind of a pain in the ass. I so wish we had done this a long time ago, especially given the wedding planning/paying. I say, go for it!

  • Melissa

    “If we are getting married he should already know and trust me to do the right thing with his assets especially if we discuss it.”

    This is true, but unfortunately many couples NEVER discuss it. Money is hard. Talking about it is really hard. So most couples don’t, or they discuss it in vague concepts without really getting specific about what they would do in certain scenarios because we don’t like to think that those scenarios (death, divorce, disability) will ever occur. But they do occur, so talking about this is so very necessary.

    My in-laws asked my now husband and I to sign a pre-nup the day after we got engaged. Their timing sucked (they aren’t the most tactful people though they are well-meaning) but their reasons were sound. See, my husband owns an apartment building with his parents and most of the capital that has gone into this investment was theirs. They live in PA, but the husband and I live in CA so now I technically have a claim on that building as well. I feel that they have every right to want to protect that asset, so once I got over the sting, I started really thinking about what a pre-nup would look like to me.

    His parents asked once and then let it go, but we knew as the wedding approached they would ask again so as we prepared to visit them, my husband and I talked and talked and talked about what we wanted out of the arrangement. If we were going to sign a pre-nup, we wanted to be united in what we wanted out of it. So we talked about divorce and income and what if one of us stays home and runs the house/kids while the other brings in the cash – what monetary value will put on homemaking if we divorce and that person needs support getting back in the workforce…and on and on and what if and what if.

    I have never felt so loved and secure in my relationship as when we were talking rationally about how we would end it. I know that might sound strange, but I imagine having that discussion when we still love each other and want the best for each other was so much easier and more productive than if we were divorcing and dealing with the hurt, anger and whatever other negative emotions would come from that. We agreed, should it ever come to that, on a way to end our marriage with as much care as we are taking in building it.

    Ironically, as ready as we were, we never signed a pre-nup. My husband and his parents signed a simple document that basically says that will get back what they put in and the rest will be for my husband to deal with.

    But I am so, so grateful we took the time to really talk about our money and our expectations.

    • Marina

      “I imagine having that discussion when we still love each other and want the best for each other was so much easier and more productive than if we were divorcing and dealing with the hurt, anger and whatever other negative emotions would come from that.”

      Yes yes yes yes yes.

    • MHD

      I like to say, “We’ll have a prenup to protect him from my future, angry self.”

  • We did not get a pre-nup and I am actually surprised that my father didn’t request that we get one. In our case I have a trust, but it is mine and not the family’s and it is modest.

    Going into the marriage, neither of us had student loans or any other debt and our savings accounts were about the same. I have a car and he doesn’t but I’ve had it since I was 16 ant it is technically totaled for minor body damage so that isnt’ really an asset. So it was just this trust that was a question and really it wasn’t. My husband considers the money mine and mine alone to use as I see fit (and we see it as untouchable until we use it as a down on a house…if that ever happens, cause yeah, even with prices down its still not really enough).

    My husband is of the belief that if we ever get divorced everything would go to me because he simply cannot fathom us separating and if we did he would be so sad he wouldn’t care. A bit naive, yes. However as Meg said CA is a community property state so as Meg said everything would be split in half anyway, which I think is totally fair.

    Also there are other ways to work around this. We are still hammering out our wills and until that time my mother’s name is a secondary on my trust because if something should happen to me she can manage the account in my husbands best interests – and she would because she LOVES him. Seriously. LOVES the boy. We also changed all our 401k’s and other accounts to name the other person the beneficiary in the mean time.

  • Sorry that was long, but one more thing:
    Does anyone else feel like if the family is pushing to get a pre-nup to protect their assets that they should cover the cost of the lawyers fees for the fiance? After all, the fiance probably (and in the example above definitely) had less to work with to begin with.

    • K

      yes! in our case M offered to cover the fees ( he and his family) but it became a thing of pride and my last stance of independence to fight my own fight and pay for it myself, but yes, i feel that if the only reason you have to go through it is because a family is forcing you the least they can do is not make it cost you anything on top of the emotional burden.

      • I certainly understand the pride thing. You go.

    • Marina

      That may be legally iffy, if the lawyer is being paid by one “side” but supposed to be advocating for the other.

  • Class of 1980

    My husband and I were fairly young and without assets when we got together. Most of the time, he earned more than I did and he owned a condo before I ever knew him.

    When we divorced, he kept the condo of course, and we split the money 50/50. There was no fighting at all. In fact, while we were divorcing, he ran into some unexpected expenses involving his car, so I gave him some of my half to help out. He tried to refuse the money, but I insisted.

    I knew I had really pulled the rug out from under him with the divorce, so I wanted to be as gracious as possible. We are still friends.

    • Morgan

      I totally understand. When I left a partner of 6 years, I actually went for less than the 50% I was entitiled to. I felt pretty bad about calling off the relationship. I did not ask for 50% of the money from one major account that I could have demanded, because it was one that I really didn’t have any emotional right to, even if I had the legal right.

      Even in messy splits, people can still find moments of grace.

  • Marina

    I have a book recommendation!

    Prenups for Lovers

    We ended up not getting a prenup, but this book was still invaluable. It focuses on the conversations about money and assets and the future and disaster that ALL couples should have, regardless of their current or future assets. And it does a really amazing job as framing prenups as something that can be done lovingly with and for your partner, rather than an “I’ll get mine” mindset.

    • Class of 1980

      Thanks for the recommendation.

      I think it can be done lovingly too. And you really should not go into a marriage with no idea of how your fiance thinks about money and how you fit in. It will tell you a lot about who he/she is.

  • David

    I will just point out, because Meg wanted me to chime in with my not-so-specialized knowledge, that while Meg and many commenters in British Commonwealth countries (and it looks like Spain as well) are talking about Community Property, in the United States there are really only a small handful of states that use the Community Property formula (basically just the Western states and only some of those). What is or is not yours in a divorce can be complicated and can sometimes merely depend on how you treat the property. What is or is not your spouse’s upon your death, depending on whether you have a valid will or not, is also complicated.

    I might suggest for those of you who are worrying to contact your local bar association and ask for estates and trusts and/or family law specialists and see if there is someone who is willing to sit down with you for an hour or two and just give you a primer on your state’s laws. Generally, a simple consultation would not cost you very much.

    I can also throw out some suggested questions:

    1. The assets we each have/had before the marriage, how would those be treated if the marriage fell apart?
    2. If we wanted to protect pre-marriage assets from a divorce, how would we do that?
    3. What happens to those assets if one of us dies?
    4. What happens to our personal debts from before the marriage if we divorce?
    5. How about if one of use dies?
    6. I, or my spouse, owns property from before the marriage, what happens to that property on death/divorce?
    7. How can we keep that property separate/How can we make sure we split it?
    8. How is what we bring in during the marriage treated? I want to make sure my spouse gets half/doesn’t get a dime.
    9. What sorts of assets are federally preempted? [note: there are types of assets that are governed by federal law and will be treated differently from state law]
    10. How does the state deal with a spouse that dies without a will? What can a will change in this formula?

    I’ll open this up to the more learned in this sort of thing to add some more possible questions.

    • meg

      Look! David left a comment for you guys. Enjoy it now, it might not happen again for another year or more.

    • Enormously helpful suggestions/questions, David. Thanks!

      Also, I’m really glad to see this topic being addressed. My fiance and I have talked about combining finances, but haven’t touched on the issue of a pre-nup yet. I think with this in mind, we’ll have a good discussion about how we want to organize all our finances before lots of wedding-related craziness/activity sets in.

    • Really appreciate the list of questions.

    • Rose

      So useful, and exactly what I was trying to get at with my British Commonwealth example. It’s less about the choice you make, and more about making sure you have the correct information to make that choice.

  • jen

    oof, I haven’t read all the previous comments, as I’m at work and don’t have the time.

    My husband and I got a prenup in California, so I do have opinions about that. :) We also signed a really simple will two days after we got married, which *everyone* should do.

    When he first brought up the idea of a pre-nup, I was hurt. It was partly the timing and lack of tact (Ah, engineers) but partly because no-one talks about them- so this thread is great! Once I got over the initial sting, it made sense, though i did make him do most of the work for getting it, since he asked for it.

    First, we started on the prenup 6 months before the wedding, because of the fact that the legality of it deteriorates as you get closer to the wedding. Which makes sense, you’re obviously feeling pressured to sign right before the wedding, which can make the thing invalid. This gave us time for us to talk about what we wanted on our own, and come up with our own plan without the lawyers involved. Then, we both met with his lawyer and talked to her, she drafted something up, and I took the draft to my lawyer. I sat down with my lawyer, and told her what I thought the pre-nup said and she helped me come up with changes that we needed for it to actually be fair and what we wanted. We actually finished about a month before the wedding, which was getting a bit stressful. So, start early!

    The most interesting and also most annoying part of the pre-nup was that we had to list everything we owned of value, sum it up, and share it with each other. The form we used to do this is actually a form used in divorces, and it gave us an incredibly clear financial picture of where we were at. It also makes things more legal, because now it is proven that I know exactly what I was doing when I let him keep his savings. ;)

    The big reason we got a pre-nup was because of stock options. For the past 5 years he has been working for a very successful company and they have been giving him some very generous benefits, largely stock grants and options. I, on the other hand, have been working for failing start-ups, so I have some worthless pieces of paper. :) He used some of that stock to pay for the down payment of our house, some to pay for the wedding, some to pay for the honeymoon. The pre-nup declares that salaried pay is community and non salaried benefits are private property (so, if i ever work for a start up that doesn’t fail, it works for me too). It also takes the house and gives me 5% ownership over the first 10 years of our marriage- so in 10 years it becomes community property. Any large joint additions we make before then get notarized as both of ours.

    Other than that, the only other big thing we did was declare joint accounts (both savings and debts) community and single accounts private. If I was to leave tomorrow, I wouldn’t have any claim on the money in his separate account, because we agreed that in a separation that would make the most sense. I also wouldn’t have to pay off any hypothetical credit card balances.

    Just because something is private property doesn’t mean private money doesn’t pay for things that benefit both of us, the pre-nup is primarily a plan for how to fairly divide assets if we should later decide to separate, not a strict plan for how we spend the money while married.

    In the end, I’m glad we have one. While there really no risk, it feels safe to know that he can’t leave me penniless without my consent. It also feels good to know that should we ever separate we have a plan for dividing the assets that was designed to not screw either of us that *should* make the entire process just that much less poisonous.

  • Lindsay

    Oh wow. My fiance and I have about the same savings and work in the same field so it’s likely that we’ll be making similar salaries as long as we’re both working. Since we have been engaged we have shifted to thinking about money as “ours” which was hard for me, but has been getting easier since the conversation is open. For these reasons a prenup had never crossed my mind and I’m sure he will laugh when I mention it later today, but now I’m definitely going to find out what our state laws are and confirm that he and I are ok with it. And holy crap we should figure out wills! I hadn’t thought at all about divorce or death because those seem so crazy right now, but a friend’s dad died recently and sorting out his assets among the family/spouses while they were mourning was really hard for everyone because his will left a lot out. Having at least something in black and white is really important. Great post – thank you!

  • Bridette

    Im horrified by the lawyers participation in this.
    1) Both parties should have independent counsel.
    2) The timing should be at least 30 days before the wedding. I am in finance and watiing until the wedding is commonly recognized as a immoral but slightly unstable position. If you got divorced and didn’t like what the pre-nup gave you, I’d argue you were forced to sign because you were staring down the barrel of an expensive wedding and didn’t freely go into the contract. I tell my clients the same thing when they try to force their future in laws into prenups right before the marriage.

    That being said – I really like prenups when done well. I’ve watched quite a few very strong marriages desolve after 20 years. and honestly, we are in a community property state (Texas) and in most marriages, the assets are split somewhat equally which Im on board with. Texas also says inheritance is separate property unless there is income on that property and its commingled…which is hard to keep track of.

    The problem Im scared of is if you were deceived in your dating time and have to get out fast ( I realize this is rare….just being cautious). Or if you have a family business or family partnership that you don’t want your partner to own in a divorce. In other words, if you own half of a jewelry design company with your sister and her husband and her get a divorce, can he own 25% of your company? The answer is usually yes in states like Texas *only about 10 states in USA are like this.

    We are doing a prenup (10 months in advance) stating if we divorce, we can each keep property equal to what we came into the marriage with…..which isn’t much, but protects the high-saver in the case of a short marriage (my friend divorced 6 months after marriage – Im paranoid). Im also stating that my house is separate property until we sell it. After that the funds can be commingled. Again, this is just a short term solution….although, this protects this home if he should ever be sued for his work.

    Im also putting that any inheritance I receive always remains separate property and the income from those assets are separate prop (the income is usually community property).

    After watching some mean divorces, I like that our pre-nup has a starting point of civility. It kinda gives guidelines of where to start. I do believe the marriage is a partnership and what we earn together is both ours. I just want to keep what I earned before that.

    • MHD

      As a soon-to-be-lawyer (just waiting on being sworn in!), I was shocked by those things too.

      In my state, both parties must have the opportunity to consult independent counsel for the pre-nup to be valid, and the date of signing (relative to the date of the wedding) is considered as well. 2 days before the wedding would not be enough.


    I haven’t had a chance to read through all the comments but I’ll share my experience in the event that it might be helpful for someone out there. My husband and I had in passing discussed pre-nups when we were moving in together, along with vague ideas of our timeline for getting engaged and initial visions for a wedding. We both agreed that we were open to the idea of a pre-nup. Partly this had to do with our life experiences (I was in my mid-30s, divorced, the owner of a condo, and a former lawyer. He was in his mid-40s, never married, and held most of his assets in retirement accounts and the stock market.) and partly it had to do with our personalities (we are both communicators and planners), so in some ways, we saw drafting a pre-nup as an opportunity for a very structured discussion about finances and our future. So, flash-forward, several months later, engaged and deep in the middle of wedding planning, we decided to draft one. Like others before have suggested, deep in the middle of wedding planning is not the ideal time for this — if you think a pre-nup is in the cards, if at all possible, start the discussion as far in advance as possible. Here was our process:

    1. We purchased the Nolo Press book on prenups:

    and each took some time to read it on our own. A great thing about this particular book is it discusses all the different reasons/goals a couple may have for a pre-nup (asset distribution in the event of a divorce is just one of many possible reasons). So we discussed at length what our goals were and affirmed that this was a joint project.

    2. The book has a sample agreement with many different optional clauses, all written in layman’s language. We went through each of the sections and determined which of the clauses most closely mirrored our intent and that became our first draft. It also helped us to see some areas that we hadn’t originally considered.

    3. We each took the drafts to attorneys for review. The enforceability of a prenup can be compromised if both sides are not represented by separate counsel. I found my lawyer through my network of law school friends and he was great — he totally understood that this was a collaborative effort and was conscious of our budget. I paid $1k after all was done, but it could have been even less had we not introduced some revisions late in the process. My husband’s work has a discounted legal services program as one of their benefits so that is how he found his lawyer. He paid $1500. We had also looked into lawyers through the bar association’s lawyer referral service. Here in SF, it’s $35 for a one hour consultation. The only part of the process that was frustrating was that his lawyer was very much a stickler about using his own language for the same concepts in the initial draft so we had more rounds of revisions than we originally planned and that took up some time. After the agreements were finalized, we had them notarized. All total, we spent about a month on this, but we were under a time crunch because we had a short engagement.

    Pre-nups might be not be for everyone but for those that are considering it, it can be a chance to get really clear on your financial philosophies and set the groundwork for having respectful, productive, and loving conversations about really difficult subjects in the future. If you aren’t sure about a pre-nup, I would strongly suggest at least flipping through the Nolo Press book (I am in no way affiliated with them) just to get educated on what a prenup could cover, you might decide you don’t need a formal document but still want to have a conversation about some of the topics with your partner.

    Great series of posts this week. I love this site because it’s so much more useful and relevant to marriage than tutorials on how to make tissue poms.

  • Alyssa

    Is it weird that today’s discussion has given me the warm and fuzzies? Cause it totally has. I’ve been too busy at work (in legal, ironically) to participate and it’s been killing me, but GOD, y’all are great.
    Everyone is just so smart and helpful and I just want to reach out and give everyone a hug!

    And I have to say this, even though its been mentioned a few time, but PLEASE use everyone’s advice today, even our super smart lawyers (so MANY of y’all…) as just a point of departure. The point of today’s discussion is just to facilitate the hard talks, tell you why they’re needed and to get you to talk to a professional about your own situation, if need be.

    • Reading this discussion makes me so happy. I work in family law, I watch people deal with this stuff all day at work, and yet I know so few people – women especially – willing to discuss it, willing to chat about the financial ramifications of marriage and divorce and wills and estates and pre-nups and … so many things. Most people don’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole. So it is just incredible that there is this resource out there for people to actually talk about this stuff.
      Thankyou Alyssa for answering this question! And thankyou to everyone on the thread telling their stories and helping people. It’s amazing.

  • Michele C.

    I have so many questions about this topic – my fiance’ is bringing nothing into the marriage, he lives in a house with his brother but I don’t think his name is on any of the paperwork though according to them they “co-own” it. I will have to find out about that one. He has no savings and is not working full time right now.

    I do not have any property, but have substantial savings. I have just started talking to someone about partnering with them to open a business, but it would be after we get married I guess.

    Neither of us has any debt. Is there a reason to even explore a prenup? I am an only child and will inherit a couple houses and I don’t know what else, but all after we are married of course, so it’s irrelevant, right?

    The will thing we will definitely do and is serious. My aunt got married to someone she had dated for many years and 55 days after the wedding he suddenly died. This is obviously not common but left her in a bad situation – they had talked about redoing wills but hadn’t yet, he had been previously been married, and his previous wife was still listed as beneficiary. In the end my aunt lost out on the money and support. Do the will BEFORE the marriage!

    • TISME

      In answer to your question about if there is even a reason to explore a prenup, the answer is YES. You’ve raised several possible issues and the outcome may differ widely depending on if you live in one of the handful of states that are community property or not. The business you are thinking of starting raises issues because you are thinking of starting it with seed money from your premarital earnings but will be using your labor post marriage. Re your inheritance, it depends somewhat on what your parents specify in their estate planning documents — meaning, if they want to leave the houses just to you (more common) or in both of your names I really think spending $20 on the book below would be really helpful to you (but obviously consult a lawyer in addition):

    • meg

      If nothing else, you need to know the nitty gritty of each others financial situations NOW. Ask to see paperwork on that house. Find out what the ramifications are if you guys need to sell your share, but the brother doesn’t want to sell. Figure out what will happen with inheritance after the marriage. Ask questions, discuss your points of view, look at paperwork. And then you might want to go talk to a lawyer.

      Look, I’m not a huge fan of the pre-nup in your normal boring “two people get married young without a lot of assets” situation, because I think assets should be shared in marriage. BUT. These discussions are making it really clear to me that not everyone has the lengthy discussions about finances that we did, and that those conversations need to happen. Maybe they happen when you write a pre-nup. Maybe they happen without a pre-nup. But they need to happen.

      Don’t sign your life over to someone without knowing the details. This is really serious business.

      • TISME

        Couldn’t agree more. I can’t speak to religious premarital programs, but I know a big big component of some of the secular premarriage workshops cover financial matters for this very reason.

        • Michele C.

          We definitely have to have the financial discussion. Unfortunately we are apart for a few months now and it’s not something I’ve wanted to do over Skype. But we’ll be together from December on and I want to tackle it for sure. I got us some pre-marital counseling books to go over this and other issues when we’re together.

          I guess my question is really just on the pre-nup. We would be living in a non-community property state, it would be MA which is “equitable distribution” and from what I’ve read is basically interpreted by the court, there are broad definitions of it. So what could a prenup even do for me, besides give me back the savings I came into it with? If I open a business after we are married I think he may be entitled to some of that profit should there be a divorce, even if his name isn’t on it. What is there to pre-nup really, if his name is not actually legally on the house (which is in Italy, by the way, so I don’t even know if that means something or not).

          In terms of inheritance I’m sure my parents will put things in my name only.

          • I am–okay, was–in CA. Both my man and I had property of our own, which we co-owned with our parents. Prior to meeting my fiance, I had a trust created. It was difficult to do with my mom (I can only imagine answering those awful questions with N in the room) but it was signed, sealed, delivered. Done and in place before N and I even started dating.

            Because I had one, I convinced N to get one–while we were dating–to ensure his property didn’t end up in probate, which is a real bit*h in CA. He did. Shelled out all $1500. Now, it’s marriage planning time, and we already know that because the houses are partial family investments, and the paperwork is already drawn up, that those are separate entities from our marriage and us.

            So, ladies, I HIGHLY recommend that if you own property, have a substantial savings, 401k, etc., that you open up a trust even if you don’t have a boyfriend! Then, the when man of your dreams comes along, it has nothing to do with him, it’s about the fact that you have been a strong, smart, independent woman all along, and you will continue to be. Plus, since the document is already in place, you don’t have to change anything–have him sign anything–unless you want to add him to your trust. In fact, N put in his trust that even if we married I would not inherit the property. It was fine by me, because my trust said the same thing.

            So now, we save and will buy together!


    As I said before, I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments so forgive me if it was said earlier, but it is really really important that women understand that how an asset earned before marriage is handled during marriage can make a HUGE difference in how that asset is viewed from the court’s perspective during a divorce. For example, let’s say you own a home that you bought before marriage and after the wedding, your husband moves in, but you never add him to the title even though he is contributing to the monthly mortgage payments and ten years later, you get divorced. Who gets the house? What percentage of the value goes to who? The courts may look at this very differently than you and your FI do, so a prenup can help establish your understanding.

    The other thing to note for couples that have pre-nups is that when you go through a major life change that has financial implications, you and your spouse should write an addendum to your pre-nup addressing that change and have it notarized.

  • I’ve actually thought of a question here, since there’s such a large international readership in this community. I wonder what other’s experiences have been with these documents in other countries? For example, if we’re living in country A when we get the paperwork drafted and then move to country B, is the original done-properly-of-course paperwork still valid (kind of like a marriage certificate), or does it have to be redone in country B?

    I’m sure it varies from country to country, but I was just curious as to whether anyone had any experiences with this.

    • Eve

      As a matrimonial/family law attorney (NY) who has drafted countless prenuptial and post nuptial agreement I can give my two cents. At least from my experience every prenuptial agreement has a choice of law provision which states under which State or Countries law the prenuptial agreement should be interpreted (i.e. governed by).
      So for example you both now live in NY, have your prenup drafted and signed in NY and then you move to Massachusetts. If you designate the law of NY State, then if you get divorced in Massachusetts that Court would have to follow NY law in its interpretation of the prenuptial agreement. (This can get somewhat complicated for non-lawyers but I can tell you that it makes perfect sense to those who practice not only in the family law field but in most areas of law.)

      If you have any questions I would suggested that you either contact a lawyer in your state through the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys ( or through the local bar association (although you really have no idea what kind of attorney you get from those referrals).

  • Anyone else find it kind of funny that the pre-nup discussion was informative and supportive, but the thank you note discussion got testy? ;)

    In all seriousness, this is a GREAT post. Reading the comments was awesome. As is indicated from my comment above (I missed being first by a nose – I SWEAR when I started typing, I was first!!!), I have some major baggage when it comes to pre-nups and the idea behind them. Overall I’m not a fan, but I’m also coming from a skewed perspective, and I can respect that in some cases they do make a lot of sense. ESPECIALLY after reading these great comments!

    Also, thanks to David for the cheat-sheet on pre-nups and wills. The biggest battle most people have is knowing WHAT to ask.

    • meg

      Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I hadn’t even thought of that. You guys slay me. The most controversial things are not controversial the least controversial things, WATCH OUT.

  • K

    thanks to everyone for the thoughtful discussion and information, and to team practical for not shying away from the topic – i know some of these comments will be able to help future couples navigate this situation which is all i could have hoped for in sharing my story, so thank you!

  • Laura

    HMMM– bets are on: will my future in-laws (who have a lot of potential assets) ask for a pre-nup???? Fiance and I have little to nothing in our artist lives. Hm… I know that fiance would be confused. Me? Equally. I just want to marry him. My hands are off of the family cash.

  • MHD

    As I mentioned up-thread, I’m about to be sworn in. I’ll also be a family court lawyer and will probably draft the occasional pre-nup.

    My fiance and I will have a pre-nup. He will likely have an inheritance, which could include his parents’ businesses. I have substantial law school loans and am opening my own firm.

    Even if those factors weren’t at play, I’d probably want us to have a pre-nup anyway. Why? Because it prevents litigating issues later. For example, if you both believe anything accomplished during the marriage belongs to you both, what would protect you from your spouse claiming something different during a divorce? You could spend a lot of money arguing over whether you both agreed that one should be a stay-at-home-parent. On the other hand, you lose little by memorializing that agreement in advance to protect both of you.

    I said: “Preparing a pre-nup protects him from my future, angry self.”

    I’m also an advocate for reviewing and updating the pre-nup, making it a post-nup, periodically to address changes in your financial situation, much like you should do with wills. I kind of expect to review them myself every 2 years and then have a more thorough review done, by another lawyer, every 5 years, with updating as necessary.

  • Oh, K, my heart hurts for you. It hurt reading your letter, and I want to wrap you up in a hug.
    If your fiance was solely worried about the family trust, then that would have been the only thing discussed in the prenup. Enough said.
    You are completely right to have felt your hurt- because it’s real and you were reacting to the reality of the situation. On your wedding day, he wasn’t willing to share 100% of himself with you.
    I would have told him to find another girl. My fiance’s mother suggested we get one- and sent us cut-out articles on them, in fact. Josh said he wouldn’t sign one because we didn’t need one.
    Now, as someone who comes from a long line of divorces, I realize they happen. But the fact of the matter is, we both come into our marriage whole, holding nothing back, undivided. If we lose that along the road of marriage, we deserve whatever mess results.
    I realize after reading this that I may sound a bit judgmental, which is completely unintentional. You love your husband, lawyers and all, which I completely respect. I just hate hearing you sound embarrassed at the end, when they are the ones who put you in that position and should be ashamed.

  • Brandy

    Little did I know, when I read this post two weeks ago…that I would be facing the emotional difficulty that goes along with the pre-nuptial discussion. I’m getting married in January and just yesterday, my future husband brought this topic up. He was gentle about it, and it had been weighing on him for the week since he returned from a business trip where his business partner asked if there was going to be something in place to protect their business in the event of divorce. While I completely understand the need and desire to protect their company, I can’t help but be sad. Planning for your divorce while planning for your life together is an emotional clusterf*** to say the least. Logically, I can deal. Emotionally, not so much!

  • kp

    For such empowered women there is still an incredible resistance to this dirty little topic that can mean financial protection and security in a world where a few years off after baby is not uncommon. My partner and I have drafted a pre-nup that comes in to play in the event that we end up with significantly disparate incomes due to time off from work – be it he or I who takes time off. In an economy where time off of work means permanent reduction in earning potential – you want to make sure that you are protected against that lawyer who picks apart the alimony agreements that say current income should be shared 50/50 or whatever you and your partner decided was appropriate.

    Women’s standard of living falls significantly in the event of divorce.
    Men’s rises.

    Pre-nups help to ensure that both of you continue at the level that you have enjoyed together – and that no one receives disproportionate benefit from the choices you made together as a a couple (to take time off work for children, to support one another during graduate school, etc.)

  • Passerby

    Really loved this and all the comments. This is exactly the sort of thing that belongs on A PRACTICAL Wedding.

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