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Prenuptial agreements: are they still useful if you never separate?

When your fiancé proposes, it's supposed to be a magical moment when you plan to live the rest of your life with a person you trust. When your new fiancé proposes a prenuptial agreement, it seems anything but magical. If you never break up, why would you possibly need to make a plan for dividing up your financial assets?

What is a pre-nup?

A prenuptial agreement is a contract that you sign with your spouse before or during marriage. A cohabitation agreement is a similar idea but for long term couples that don't want to get married. The point of such an agreement is to make a financial plan for the relationship, and it can include how assets will be divided in the event of separation. However, it can also offer an opportunity to discuss who will pay for what and how you will manage house purchases, joint bank accounts, credit cards, school fees, and retirement funds. It can keep debt and company ownership separated, or can ensure that if you die children from prior marriages will inherit certain items instead of your spouse.

A prenuptial or cohabitation agreement is not all-encompassing. It cannot cover children born during the marriage, which includes who will pay what, parenting time, or child support if you do separate. It cannot set unfair terms for property division upon separation, such as one person keeping all the assets with the other getting nothing. Prenups don't address personal aspects such as who does the laundry or washes the dishes. Even so, the discussion of finances certainly does open the door for further conversations about marriage values and how to handle problems.

Why make a legal document?

In a relationship the ideal is complete trust and openness, and calm discussion to work through differences of opinion. Many couples do not achieve this. Money in particular is a touchy subject, and it's scary to discuss financial planning or be upfront about debts and poor credit. While it may be daunting, a prenuptial agreement offers a calm financial discussion with legal representation for both sides. This actually presents quite a fair and logical way to address a difficult topic.

Signing a contract is a commitment, whether it's a marriage contract or a financial one. A prenuptial agreement shows that commitment both to your spouse and to the marriage. It also demonstrates a willingness to discuss the difficult aspects of a marriage and work through them. A change in mentality from viewing pre-nups as a one way ticket to a divorce lawyer towards seeing pre-nups as a means to resolve issues could perhaps allow couples a smoother transition into long-term happiness.

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