Negotiation is such an intimidating thing for some people, and we totally get why! Especially when it comes to your future spouse! No one wants hostility and aggressive discussions about money, divorce, death, kids, etc., before their beautiful wedding. However, there’s a misconception that negotiations are always hostile, and it’s just plain untrue! If you do it right, negotiations can be as simple as a conversation with your partner where the two of you openly express your desires and meet in the middle. How do you make sure it stays calm? Well, in this article, we’ll explore the key steps you can take to maintain a positive dialogue and establish a fair and enforceable agreement.
Why Honest Communication is Important in Prenuptial Agreement Negotiations
Before we dive into the tips for keeping communication open and honest during prenuptial agreement negotiations, let’s explore why it’s so important in the first place. Prenups are designed to protect both parties in case the marriage ends in divorce, but they can also be a source of conflict if not handled properly. By keeping communication open and honest, you can avoid misunderstandings, clarify expectations, and build trust between you and your partner.
Not to mention, legally speaking, if things are not kept honest during the prenup-making process, most states will not enforce a prenup that was created under circumstances in which one spouse is not honest.
For example, let’s say you have a rental property under your name that accrues income for you that your parents gifted you for your college graduation. You really don’t want your future spouse to know about this, so you keep it out of the prenup completely (i.e., you never mention it to your partner, nor do you put it in your financial disclosure).
Newsflash: this is grounds to have your prenup thrown out in many states! How? Well, many states require full and fair financial disclosure of ALL assets (not just some of your assets). If there’s anything less than full and fair disclosure, it could lead to your prenup being thrown out.
Another example of how important honest communication is in the prenup-making process is if one person is not being totally honest about their desires.
Let’s say Jane and John are getting married and John is significantly wealthier than Jane. Jane wants to prove her love to John and make sure he knows that she’s not in it for the money. So, instead of voicing her true opinion during the prenup negotiations, she stays silent and lets John make all the decisions. Deep down she feels a little bit slighted, but it’s totally fine because she doesn’t want to come off as a gold digger! So, she waives her rights to almost everything in her prenup (no alimony, no right to separate assets, no lump sum payments, no ability to stay in the marital home, etc.).
This is also a recipe for disaster in so many ways. Why? For one, if Jane ever becomes a stay-at-home mom and forgoes her career, she may find herself in a very tough financial position in the event of a divorce because she waived her right to all support from her husband! For two, if the disparity in the prenup is bad enough, she could challenge the prenup, and a court could say that it’s an unconscionable agreement. Unconscionability differs from state to state but generally means the prenup is extremely unfair. This can be difficult to establish, but not impossible. To make a long story short? The prenup could be thrown out by a court if it’s TOO unfair.
The bottom line: Honesty REALLY is the best policy when it comes to making a prenup. And if you’re not honest, you could wind up with your prenup in the trash or with a horrible divorce settlement outcome that you didn’t feel comfortable with in the first place.
Tips for Keeping Communication Open and Honest
Now that you understand the “why,” let’s talk about the “how.” Negotiating a prenuptial agreement requires a willingness to listen to each other’s concerns and find common ground. Here are some tips to help keep communication open and honest throughout the process.
- Start the Conversation Early
Don’t wait until the last minute to bring up the idea of a prenup. Start the conversation early in the relationship so that both parties have time to consider the implications and ask questions. By broaching the topic early, you can avoid any surprises or misunderstandings down the line.
Not to mention, from a legal standpoint, you are required to get the prenup done earlier rather than later. Some states have hard requirements: like California and the 7-day rule. Other states have softer requirements but still require the prenup to be finalized at least 30 days before the wedding. In other words, if you don’t get the prenup done early enough in advance, it could be considered unenforceable.
- Choose the Right Setting
The location and timing of your prenup negotiation can have a big impact on the tone and outcome of the discussion. Choose a private and neutral setting where both people feel comfortable and relaxed. Avoid discussing the prenup during emotionally charged moments or when one of you is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. That means, no negotiations after a big blowout fight, after a boss reprimands your partner, after a ton of wine, etc., etc.
- Use “I” Statements
When discussing sensitive topics, it’s important to take ownership of your own feelings and experiences. Use “I” statements to express your thoughts and emotions without blaming or accusing your partner. For example, instead of saying “You’re being unfair,” try saying “I feel like it would be unfair to waive alimony because I feel XYZ.”
- Listen Actively
Active listening involves more than just hearing the words your partner is saying. It involves paying attention to their body language, tone of voice, and underlying emotions. Show that you are actively listening by summarizing what your partner has said and asking clarifying questions. Also, don’t just wait your turn to speak and ignore your partner the whole time they’re talking. Make sure you digest what they’re saying, then take your turn to talk. (Easier said than done, we know!).
- Take Breaks When Needed
Negotiating a prenuptial agreement can be emotionally draining, so it’s important to take breaks when needed. If the conversation becomes too heated or one of you needs to step away to process your thoughts and feelings, take a break and come back to the discussion when you’re both ready.
Side note: this is another reason why starting the prenup process early is important– to give you plenty of buffer time for negotiations. Even if you want to table the negotiations for a week or two, you can do that as long as you start early enough!
- Seek Professional Help
If you’re having trouble communicating effectively, consider seeking professional help from a therapist, mediator, or attorney. A neutral third party can help you navigate difficult conversations and find common ground. Family law attorneys can offer their experiences, advice, and suggestions for negotiating a prenup (as they’ve done it many times in their careers!).
How to Address Sensitive Issues in Prenuptial Agreement Negotiations
Prenuptial agreements can cover a wide range of issues, including property division, spousal support, debt, and more. Here are some tips for addressing these sensitive topics during negotiations.
- Financial Disclosure
Discussing finances can be challenging, but it’s important to be transparent and honest about your financial situation. Make a list of your assets, income, debts, and future inheritances, and be prepared to share this information with your partner. Keep in mind there is no room for skimping here. No, you cannot include some assets, and leave some out. A lack of full and fair disclosure could get your prenup thrown out (depending on your state)!
- Property Division
Deciding how to divide property can be a source of conflict during prenuptial agreement negotiations. Be clear about which assets you want to protect, and consider how you will handle jointly-owned property (both obtained before and during the marriage). If you’re looking for more information on how to handle property division in a prenup, you can read more here.
- Spousal Support
Spousal support, sometimes called alimony or maintenance, can be a contentious issue in prenuptial agreement negotiations. Some people may have very strong opinions either way on how to address alimony in a prenup. There are some negotiation chips you can use to meet in the middle, such as only offering alimony if children are had or setting monetary limits on alimony.
Debt is another tough topic to broach with your sweetie. I mean, it’s never fun detailing how much money you owe to credit card debt or student loans. Whether you have $10,000 in debt or $500,000 in debt, you’ll need to share that info with your partner and then determine how it should be handled in the event of a divorce.
A quick negotiation sesh right before date night isn’t really the traditional way to feel love (in a candle-lit, romancing kind of way). But if you think about it in a logical, reasonable kind of way, negotiating is actually pretty romantic. You are making sure BOTH of your needs are met and both people feel heard and understood. By starting the conversation early, choosing the right setting, using “I” statements, actively listening, taking breaks when needed, seeking professional help if needed, and more, you can establish a fair and enforceable agreement that protects both parties. You got this!
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]