Are Pre-Nuptial Agreements For Everyone?

My wife and I were married a few years ago. I was working at myFICO at the time we got engaged, so I was already swimming in the world of credit, debt, and personal finance.

In fact, Suze Orman was a partner of myFICO, so I was exposed to a lot of her principles. For example, she believes that all couples should go through the prenuptial agreement process, which seems like heresy to most of her viewers. The “pre-nup” has negative connotations for most people, but Orman has a different spin on it — which I adopted.

Her concept is that a pre-nup doesn't need to be focused on a negative outcome of divorce. Instead, it can be used as an exercise to really talk about money, and especially values around money. Her thinking is that if a couple can get through a pre-nup, they'll be better equipped to handle financial issues down the road. Orman believes that every couple should have a pre-nup, and that it isn't a tool just for wealthy people.

So, Molly and I decided to do a pre-nup. We told friends that we intended to do a pre-nup and the reactions were, perhaps, unsurprising. Most looked at me with disdain, as if it were something I was forcing her to do. But we held firm because we knew the data: 80% of all divorces are related to money issues. Over half of credit distress issues come from an estranged spouse.

Honestly, the process was awkward at times. But mostly, it was a healthy discussion about goals, fairness, and respect. It was a chance for each of us to show each our true character. I learned what was important to Molly, and she learned what was important to me.

To be frugal, we had a lawyer friend draft up the standard documents, and then we each hired an attorney to make sure we were covering all the bases.

To those of you who say, “I don't need a pre-nup to have great communication with my spouse!”, I say this: There's a value you can't see until you go through it. You are forced to show more of who you really are, and it's hard to force that in the courting stage.

In the end, the process was cathartic. Now our money discussions don't involve communication issues. Don't get me wrong: Like most couples, we have disagreements about how to spend money! But we feel great about the transparency the pre-nup provided, and the fact that it's made us better communicators.

Do you have experience with a pre-nuptial agreement? How do you feel about the process? Would you recommend it to others?

More about...Planning

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
138 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Patty - Why Not Start Now?
Patty - Why Not Start Now?
10 years ago

Sounds like you had a very positive experience with it and it provided a truly solid foundation for going forward. I’m thinking that if you focused on values, goals, fairness, and respect, then your pre-nup experience far surpassed the stereotype that we think of when we hear the word. So maybe we need a better word for it?

Jim
Jim
10 years ago

I can see that getting a pre-nup is probably a good idea for everyone given the high divorce rate. But if your fiance takes offense to the idea then I don’t think its beneficial to push it. It seems that pushing a prenup on someone might send them message that you expect the marriage to fail, or that you think money is more important than the marriages success or that you think your fiance is a potential gold digger. I really can’t see how you can go about suggesting a prenup without seriously risking offendidng someone.

Jeff
Jeff
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim

If one partner takes serious offense to it then that ought to be a red flag that perhaps marriage isn’t the best idea in the first place.

Patrick Szalapski
Patrick Szalapski
10 years ago

“…A pre-nup doesn’t need to be focused on a negative outcome of divorce.” Isn’t that like saying a funeral doesn’t have to be focused on death?

James
James
10 years ago

Not getting a pre-nup is like gambling a huge portion of your life savings on the flip of a coin. Approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce. While I wouldn’t plan on getting married if I didn’t think my spouse was the “one”, you can never predict the future. I would require a pre-nup before getting married and I would expect my wife-to-be would want to do the same.

Jonathan Vaudreuil
Jonathan Vaudreuil
10 years ago

To Patrick, Jim and everyone: I think his whole point was what he and his wife gained by going through the pre-nuptial agreement process. If someone says “I don’t want to talk about money and who owns what” before you get married, then why would you want to marry that person? You can’t tell me that person is going to work things out in a marriage, and that’s what marriages need to be successful (unless someone is happy to cave in on a daily basis). As for the negative association, get it out of your head and start from there.… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
10 years ago

“80% of all divorces are related to money issues.” First of all, I’m very skeptical of this stat. Can you cite a reputable source to back it up, or did you pluck it out of thin air? Second of all, assuming it were true, wouldn’t having a pre-nup in place increase the risk of a divorce? I mean, in the absence of a pre-nup, a couple might fear that a divorce would spell financial ruin for the both of them, and they’ll be more inclined to work things about. But if they both know ahead of time exactly how the… Read more »

jessieimproved
jessieimproved
10 years ago

I think that a formal pre-marriage finance class, with hands-on exercises, would serve this purpose, and avoid the negative connotations. The couple could go through the class together and plan a budget, retirement goals, etc.

Katherine
Katherine
10 years ago

Andy, would you mind sharing some more details about how much it cost for each of you to hire an attorney? I just got engaged and my fiance and I both think a prenup is probably a good idea, but balk at the potentially high cost (I just have no idea, never having dealt with lawyer’s fees) for something that’s not absolutely essential. @Jim I would be concerned that if my partner would be so offended by the idea of a prenup, they may not be pragmatic enough for the marriage itself to survive in any case or they’re unable… Read more »

Jared
Jared
10 years ago

My wife and I read the The Total Money Makeover while we were engaged and came up with a budget, goals, etc. We’ve been married for two years now and it was a good exercise and we’ve stuck to what we planned. It didn’t require a prenup. To each his own.

James
James
10 years ago

It doesn’t increase the risk of divorce it just shows a persons/couple’s character more quickly. Having to stay in a marriage to continue being financially solvent sounds horrible and in fact would create a lot of resentment.

Ron
Ron
10 years ago

And the great thing is, if you do encounter a few bumps in the road, you already have your future divorce planned out! Nothing like an escape plan to secure a strong commitment…

Caitlin
Caitlin
10 years ago

I’d also be interested in the source of the numbers used. @Jonathan Vaudreuil “It’s not about the actual pre-nup, it’s about the discussion that comes from drafting the pre-nup.” If it’s not about the pre-nup, then there would be no need for the pre-nup, just the discussion. If you can’t have that kind of discussion with your spouse-to-be (or spouse), well, that’s a separate issue that you should work on before you discuss the pre-nup. Intellectually, it’s a good idea, however I agree that a better word needs to be created for it. The lack of trust implied by a… Read more »

James
James
10 years ago

@11)

If you’re looking for an escape route you will find one with or without a pre-nup. A couple should want to work it out without being forced to.

Mr. ToughMoneyLove
Mr. ToughMoneyLove
10 years ago

Sorry – not inspired by this. The fact that the author worked at myFICO is a credibility-killer from the get-go. On top of that he cites Suze Orman as an authoritative source on marriage and money. How many marriages has she been in? ‘Nuf said.

Judy W
Judy W
10 years ago

My husband & I have been married for 39 years and have been through the good & the bad. I aggree with those who say a pre-nup agreement, especally if you bring in the lawyers is, for the most part not good! It’s anticipating divorce. A strong commitment to each other and perhaps sitting down and making a budgit, go to classes would as someonelse said should do the trick.

MK
MK
10 years ago

My spouse and I were in our early 20s when we got married. We didn’t own cars, or a house, and hadn’t even found post-college jobs yet… I can’t imagine why we would have needed to go through that process; I doubt many lawyers would even have taken it on. We lived together for 4 years before we got married, so we knew how we worked together on financial issues, and how we both wanted to handle our finances, etc. If I got married *now*, on the other hand, in my mid-30s, it might make some sense. But for everyone?… Read more »

Jon
Jon
10 years ago

Aweful aweful advice. There are ways to talk about finances without “going through the exercise” of a pre-nup. There is absolutely no place for a pre-nup. Ever. You get married once, you stay married for better or for worse. You share all of your money. You share all of your debt. One man, one women, one bank account, one lifetime. I would never counsel the couples I see to do anything else. That’s the way it is.

Nick
Nick
10 years ago

@17 It worries me that you counsel couples if you believe that everything is that cut and dry…

There are way too many variables for an idealistic statement like that to ever be true.

That’s, in fact, not the way it is.

Baker
Baker
10 years ago

While I think the prenups can serve a purpose, the implication that *everyone* should get one or that they a *for* everyone is about as goofy advice as I can think of.

Wait… nope… can’t think of anything more goofy.

We are a culture that thinks it’s ok to plan for divorce and then we wonder why the divorce rate is 50%.

Mr. Not the Jet Set
Mr. Not the Jet Set
10 years ago

@ Mr. TML – very well said! The Mrs. was pretty hot about The Today Show having Suze comment on the Jon & Kate thing and then give couples advice on how to avoid this. Total garbage.

A pre-nup as a tool to drive a conversation about money, goals, respect… yeah, it’s called pre-marriage counseling. Every couple should do that. Pre-nup, not so much.

ebyt
ebyt
10 years ago

I expected this post to actually describe what the process is like, or in fact, what kinds of things us not wealthy people would need to include in one. Ok… a prenup is good… but WHY? From your post I get that it’s important to have a conversation about finance before you get married (like the post this morning from JD), but why a prenup? How does it protect you both? Etc…

Patrick Szalapski
Patrick Szalapski
10 years ago

We all know that when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. But what happens when you actually plan to fail?

J.D.
J.D.
10 years ago

Interesting. I never realized this was such a hot-button issue for some people. I have no real opinion on pre-nuptial agreements. They seem fine to me.

Patrick, why do you think a prenup is a plan to fail? Is buying car insurance a plan to wreck? Buying home insurance a plan to burn the place down? Buying life insurance a plan to die?

Matt
Matt
10 years ago

@Jon “There is absolutely no place for a pre-nup. Ever. You get married once, you stay married for better or for worse.” Oh, I guess married people never die, or if they do, then they aren’t allowed to get remarried. Your whole comment oversimplifies life. I say this not merely to nitpick, but because of family experiences I’ve encountered. @Baker I’m not familiar with all that goes in to a pre-nup, but from your comment it occurs to me that if everyone were to get them there wouldn’t be the stigma around them that there is. But as other people… Read more »

Patrick Szalapski
Patrick Szalapski
10 years ago

Only if you or your spouse can’t help but burn the house down despite your best intentions.

Andy
Andy
10 years ago

If you do a pre-nup then in your vows you should say: “…for richer or poorer, til death do us part, but if one of us is boldface lying right now then we can’t take each other’s stuff.” The whole logic of a pre-nup is wrong. It’s a promise in case we break our promise. Premarital counselling and not taking vows lightly is the answer.

Becky
Becky
10 years ago

I have been married to the same guy, at times unhappily and currently happily, for 14 years. I *know* about staying together through the bad times when splitting up would have been easier. More than someone whose marriage has always been happy, I know whereof I speak. And in my opinion, those who are saying that a pre-nup is a bad idea “because divorce just shouldn’t happen” or because it will somehow make divorce “easier” are not anybody I would take advice about marriage from. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten about choosing a spouse is… Read more »

Aaron
Aaron
10 years ago

JD While a pre-nup is not a plan to fail per-say, it cannot help but create a spiritual and emotional wall between a husband and wife. By default, that piece of paper says that you value keeping your money and things more than keeping her… If you don’t believe this, try walking in to the living room one night with the pre-nup in hand and then say “Honey, I love you and trust you more than anyone and anything else in this world even if it costs me every dime I own I am going to put my faith in… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
10 years ago

@Aaron (#28): For the record, I don’t have a prenup. I didn’t know about them when I get married. If I were getting married today, I’d absolutely use one, and if my fiancee was adamantly against one, I’d see that as a sign that I couldn’t trust her, not the other way around. Reading these comments, I’m not persuaded by the “a prenup is a plan to fail” argument. I don’t get it at all. Somebody lay this out in a way that makes sense to me. I’m not saying that a prenup guarantees a happy marriage, but that I… Read more »

Chelsea
Chelsea
10 years ago

Aaron, you’re assuming the man wants the pre-nup and the woman does not. If my husband ripped up our pre-nup I would be really angry. I was the one who brought it up; he was the one with more money when we married. But after some discussion, I think I ended up wanting it just as much as him, if not more. We were both older (30) with some assets, and we both preferred to keep everything separate. We have an excellent relationship with no money issues ever. But who’s to say what will happen in 10, 20, 30 years.… Read more »

Aaron
Aaron
10 years ago

JD Sorry about the confusion, thought you had one from the article, my bust, no-offense intended, warm-fuzzy’s on me… I understand what you are saying that if you have a signifigant net worth and if someone was adamantly against even discussing a pre-nup it might set off some warning signals… …but I would also offer, if someone is interested in starting a discussion about getting a pre-nup, it shows that they aren’t ready to become emotionally open and vulnerable enough to completely trust their future spouse and that lack of complete openness and trust is quite likely to become a… Read more »

Andy @ VideoCreditScore
Andy @ VideoCreditScore
10 years ago

Patty, I agree on a better name for it. The name has a negative feel. Kevin, sorry I can’t find the original study, but here’s one that shows that finances are 93% of reasons for conflict and I think this correlates [39% primary and 54% secondary]. My main point is that finances account for more divorces than infidelity or communication issues. http://ncsu.edu/ffci/publications/2008/v13-n1-2008-spring/Washburn-Christensen.php Here’s another quote of 57% of divorced couples in the United States cited financial problems as the primary reason for the demise of their marriage http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-18930297.html On your second point, I’d love to see that study on divorce… Read more »

Mr. ToughMoneyLove
Mr. ToughMoneyLove
10 years ago

JD – As I a lawyer, every agreement I write includes terms that are based on a worst case scenario: What happens when someone breaches the agreement. If a relationship between a man and woman is at its core a partnership, then let them be partners, not spouses, and let them write a partnership agreement to protect themselves. For many of the commenters, a marriage is a spiritual bond that transcends money and money partnerships which is why a prenup is so distasteful. Frankly, any couple that feels that a prenup is needed should probably not marry and should absolutely… Read more »

Paul Williams @ Provident Planning
Paul Williams @ Provident Planning
10 years ago

I found pre-marital counseling opened up the same avenues of communication about money values. If you’ve got a good counselor and are working through a thorough book and actually discussing the issues, you’ll cover this stuff. I don’t see a pre-nup as a necessary step for any couple if they go through good pre-marital counseling and communicate long before that about these issues. If you need a legal document to force the two of you to examine yourselves and discuss concerns, goals, whatever, there’s a good chance you’re going to run into some other problems later on that you didn’t… Read more »

The Tim
The Tim
10 years ago

by J.D. @ 23:

Is buying car insurance a plan to wreck? Buying home insurance a plan to burn the place down? Buying life insurance a plan to die?

Everyone dies, it’s 100% guaranteed, so yeah, life insurance is a plan for the certainty that you will die. Home and car insurance are poor analogies, because you’re insuring against random external influences that may cause you damage.

Last I checked, I hadn’t made any vows with the other drivers on the road.

Jeff
Jeff
10 years ago

I think most people fail to see the main reason that pre-nups have negative connotations and why your spouse might take offense to it. It has nothing to do with being a “plan to fail”, although, in a way, it is just that. You don’t buy insurance thinking you’ll never need it, you buy insurance thinking that something, eventually, will go wrong. And a pre-nup is marriage insurance – in case something bad happens, i.e. I sleep with my secretary, I don’t want *you* (the supposed love of my life) to take *my* things (even though in a marriage, everything… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
10 years ago

Marriage itself is a contract. The marriage contract confers rights and obligations on the parties (spouses). Most of the terms of the marriage contract default to state family laws. Do you all agree with every single state family law? Are they all perfect and flawless? Do you even know the ins and outs of your state’s family laws? Probably not. A pre-nup allows a couple to customize the legal terms of their marriage instead of lazily defaulting to the general “form contract” of state family law. If you are marrying an intelligent spouse, they will recognize the value of customizing… Read more »

Chris
Chris
10 years ago

I dunno, it seems like if you’re worried about how to divide things in the case of a split-up, you should just live together instead of getting married. If I’m not mistaken, a prenup only concerns things you each acquired before marriage, so what about the car or house that you buy 5 years down the road?

I think the problem is that there’s too much social pressure to get married. But if you don’t trust someone enough to not sign a prenup, then what’s the harm in just living together instead?

T
T
10 years ago

“I think that a formal pre-marriage finance class, with hands-on exercises, would serve this purpose, and avoid the negative connotations. The couple could go through the class together and plan a budget, retirement goals, etc.” This ++ Going through a “thought exercise” to determine how you’re going to split up the goods if/when you call the marriage quits is a horrible way to start a marriage. Do you really want one of the last things you do as a couple before tying the knot is to plan on how to make the divorce proceedings less messy? ’cause regardless of all… Read more »

Maria
Maria
10 years ago

As a divorced woman, I absolutely want a prenup in any future marriage. (Before you get all high and mighty on me and wonder how I could have broken my sacred vows – I didn’t. My husband abandoned me. It takes two people committed to a marriage to make it work, but only one to break it.) At the time we were dating, I thought our communication was one of our best strengths. It was – until he stopped telling me the truth. The financial complexity didn’t dissuade him from leaving me – that would be the hallmark of a… Read more »

AB
AB
10 years ago

We had multiple discussions about money before getting married, and continue to make sure we’re on the same page. It was natural for us. We’d never have done a pre-nup because we already had all the transparency we need. My husband and I rarely fight (4 years, 3 fights), and not a single fight has been about money. Frankly, I feel if you need to pay lawyers to help you achieve full transparency with your future spouse, there might be some issues there. So while there might be a place for a pre-nup, why not in that case just stay… Read more »

E
E
10 years ago

Interesting. I don’t have a strong emotional reaction to the pre-nup idea that so many have, but I don’t really see the point. If you have significant assets, children from a prior relationship, then I could see the value. For myself, not only did we pretty much have nothing to start with, but we’re each still working out our own financial priorities. If he’d suggested a prenup, I’d have been willing to look at and consider it, hear his reasons for wanting it. At this point I’m not convinced it would be of value to me or us.

zud
zud
10 years ago

know the martial statutes prior to getting married. in Canada and in my province, after a divorce all family assets are divided equally. meaning assets acquired and used during marriage by the family, without needing to prove ownership or contribution. however you are generally allowed to keep things you had before getting married, such as savings, rental property, home etc.. a pre nup is for people who feel that there will be unequal contribution to family assets during a marriage. ie one spouse is a doctor and the other works at 7-11, however when children are involved it’s a different… Read more »

Wes
Wes
10 years ago

Just because we didn’t hire attorneys to review our financial and marital goals, doesn’t mean that we didn’t communicate effectively about money and goals beforehand. You would sooner convince a car salesman to draft a “pre-devaluation/breakdown” agreement than convince me all couples need a pre-nuptial agreement. I can just imagine that discussion- I would like to buy this car for this much with these options, but I need an agreement that says that if it doesn’t last forever or if I decide I want a newer or different model you have to refund me half the purchase price and half… Read more »

Jan
Jan
10 years ago

I think that if you do not have good marriage counseling – go the pre nup- it is a good way to at least THINK about what it will look like (even though it never rarely “looks that way” for very long in our experience). We have 27 years so far. I did the finances, he did the finances- we switch depending on instances. I support his woodworking, he supports my teaching(He says my teaching is a hobby:>) We both support the kids. We take turns working (right now we both work). We both have stayed home with the kids.… Read more »

Justin King
Justin King
10 years ago

What I find really interesting, reading through the comments, is that most people seem to be discussing the need for financial awareness and discussion, but only a very few people are mentioning trust issues.

444
444
10 years ago

Sometimes people think pre-nuptial agreements are a “new” thing. I have done genealogical research and I’ve found evidence (actual written records) of pre-nuptial agreements during the 1700s. I think that the more assets a person has, the more likely that a pre-nup will even be considered; who really needs one when there is not any money to scrape together, anyway? The example I found had to do with a mother of two children, about ages 10 and 12, marrying a man, and the agreement had to do with his pledge to provide food, lodging and pay for educational expenses for… Read more »

tosajen
tosajen
10 years ago

I am surprised that almost no-one would do a pre-nup. I didn’t with DH, because we had nothing but debt and have only lived in community-property states. That was 15 years and a lot of money saved and earned ago. And 2 kids. If DH were to die or we were to divorce, I’d totally want a prenup with any future husband, as well as a very clear will. I’d want all the separately-held finances and our future intentions for my children and his (?) to be clear before we get married. People die and move on. I don’t consider… Read more »

K
K
10 years ago

I don’t agree with the “stay married regardless of circumstance” argument. I think others have done a great job addressing why that is a flawed stance. I’m in my late twenties and my fiance and I are currently discussing the pre-nup option. We are both products of failed marriages and have seen the devastating financial impacts that can be associated with it. With that said, I guess I don’t understand what’s wrong with laying out a plan for our future while we’re in love. Why is it wrong to protect ourselves against changed circumstances? Alchoholism runs in my family, on… Read more »

Aaron
Aaron
10 years ago

I am sure you are tosajen but there are also many people who have a hard time understanding how anyone can honestly share their bed, heart and most intimate dreams with someone who they won’t share their bank-accounts with without a “just-in-case” clause attached. I don’t expect any comments here to change anyone’s minds and really don’t want to come across as a soapbox demagogue but Chelsea raised an interesting point above. She mentioned that she would be very angry if her husband tore up their pre-nup. As an engineer I strongly believe that the way to better solutions is… Read more »

shares