If you’ve watched TLC’s 90-Day Fiance, then you know marrying someone overseas doesn’t come without its fair share of obstacles. Sure, you love your boo, but, let’s face it, marrying someone from a different country can be stressful. There’s the visa, the paperwork, the immigration appointments, traveling to the embassy, the cost, the flights, the what-ifs, and much more. Adding a prenup into the mix can seem overwhelming, we get it! But, it’s so important to consider because it can help navigate the complexities that international couples often face and can also protect both of your interests in case of unexpected events.
Below, we’ll discuss why international couples should seriously consider getting a prenup. So, pause 90-Day Fiance, grab your favorite beverage, get comfy, and let’s dive into the world of prenuptial agreements for international couples!
Understanding the need for a prenup in international marriages
Creating a prenuptial agreement may not be the first thing on your to-do list for your wedding (especially if you’re on the 90-Day Fiance visa), but for international couples, it can be a crucial step in ensuring a smooth financial future. International couples often face complex issues that domestic couples might not encounter. Differences in nationality can bring about complications in legal jurisdictions, potential language barriers, and variances in cultural attitudes towards marriage and divorce. These factors make it essential for international couples to consider a prenuptial agreement as a means of safeguarding their future.
But wait, what is a prenuptial agreement?
Before we delve into the reasons why international couples should get a prenup, let’s first talk about what a prenuptial agreement is. In simple terms, a prenuptial agreement (or, a “prenup” as the kids these days say) is a legally binding contract that a couple enters into before getting married. A prenup basically outlines how various issues, such as property, debt, finances, spousal support (a.k.a., alimony), and other non-financial matters will be handled in the event of a divorce, separation, and sometimes death.
A prenup can be beneficial for anyone, not just the wealthy! Prenups can include clauses that benefit the lesser monied spouse, too. By adding in a property division scheme that benefits both parties, adding in a wealth equalization clause, a primary residence clause, and others, you can make sure that both spouses are protected. Without further ado, let’s get into some of the reasons why international couples should consider getting a prenup!
Reason #1: Protecting Assets Across Different Jurisdictions
A prenuptial agreement plays a crucial role in defining asset ownership, even when those assets are situated in foreign countries. Assets can be real estate, bank accounts, personal possessions, and anything of value. If you happen to have foreign accounts or properties, listen up, this information is for you!
A U.S. prenup can provide some degree of protection for your foreign assets, but it does have its limitations. A U.S. court does not have authority in other countries to tell them what to do with assets located in their country. However, U.S. courts do have the ability to address assets located within the United States.
For instance, in the event of property division, if you hold both a French bank account and an American piece of real estate, a U.S. court can offset the value of the bank account and allocate it toward the American real estate. This allows for a fair distribution of assets within the U.S. jurisdiction.
Where does a prenup come into play? You can lay out the ownership of assets in your prenup so a court doesn’t need to make the decision for you. For instance, you can say that all of your assets, including those in a foreign country are your separate property, not to be offset or distributed in the event of a divorce!
Reason #2: Lessons from 90-Day Fiance…
If you have learned nothing else from watching TLC’s 90-Day Fiance, it’s that sometimes people want to get married to an American so they can come to the USA and get a green card. It’s an unfortunate truth that many international couples have to face. We’ve seen many sad stories of Americans getting scammed (thanks to TLC) from their purported fiance who supposedly loved them, but actually left them as soon as they landed on American soil or had a green card in hand. While 90-Day Fiance may exaggerate the likelihood of this happening because it makes for good television, this CAN happen in real life. It’s really sad and cumbersome for the person who was being scammed, so minimizing the potential damage is particularly important.
How can a prenup help? A prenup can ensure that you are only responsible to the person according to the obligations under U.S. immigration law, nothing more. You see, for international couples, when a U.S. citizen sponsors their fiance (and eventual spouse) for a green card, their financial obligations to the U.S. government remain in place even in the event of a divorce. This is because when you sponsor someone for a green card, you sign what is called an Affidavit of Support, which is a contract between the U.S. citizen and the government. Under the Affidavit of Support, the U.S. citizen is financially responsible for the person they sponsored until that person becomes a citizen or has 40 quarters of qualifying work under the Social Security Act (which is 10 years of continuous work). A divorce doesn’t end these obligations. Rough, right?
With a prenup, you can make sure you are only bound to your spouse according to what you signed with the Affidavit of Support, and nothing more. If your partner is faking the relationship, you can’t use a prenup to get out of your Affidavit of Support obligations, but you can make sure you are not obligated to anything more than that. You can ensure that other assets go untouched and you don’t lose out on more money to this person. You can also explore including additional immigration-related clauses to your prenup, agreeing to a certain timeline for citizenship to ensure the Affidavit of Support obligations end at earliest possible point.
Reason #3: Cultural Differences and Financial Expectations
One significant advantage of getting a prenuptial agreement as an international couple is establishing clear expectations and settling potential cultural differences. Through a prenup, you and your partner can define financial boundaries, creating a framework for financial expectations.
For example, you have the ability to include clauses addressing matters such as the using joint bank accounts during the marriage and how to manage expenses and spending while married. This proactive step lays a strong foundation for your marriage by ensuring alignment on financial roles and responsibilities.
By harmonizing these expectations, you can effectively address potential cultural disparities in how money is handled within a marriage, thereby mitigating the likelihood of future conflicts.
Reason #4: Estate Planning
International couples should consider their estate planning goals when they pass (and, frankly, not just international couples, but all couples should consider this). A prenup can address some estate planning terms, such as a death clause and/or will clause. A death clause can essentially require each spouse to waive their right to inherit from the other spouse when they die.
Remember that episode on 90-Day Fiance when Jasmine (Panamanian citizen) was so worried what would happen to her if Gino (American citizen) were to pass away? In that storyline, Jasmine was expressing her worry as to what would happen to her if Gino were to pass away–who would take care of her? It makes sense that Jasmine would be worried about what would happen to her if Gino would pass away, it’s a valid thought–Gino isn’t the healthiest guy on the planet, after all. On the flip side, Gino also has a say as to what happens to his assets after he passes. We’re not here to speculate on what they should or shouldn’t do, but rather underline the importance of clarifying this important topic with your partner in your prenup.
The bottom line is that all couples, especially international couples, should consider getting their estate planning documents in order (wills, trusts, etc.) in addition to a prenup.
Reason #5: A Tool for Peace of Mind
Ultimately, a prenuptial agreement can provide peace of mind. The assurance that you and your partner have diligently planned for various scenarios empowers couples to concentrate on the journey of building their lives together, free from concerns about potential challenges.
In addition, a prenup enables you to align your expectations and ensure that both partners are on the same page as you embark on your marriage journey, thereby laying the foundation for a long-lasting marriage.
Getting a prenup for international couples is a good idea!
For international couples, a prenuptial agreement should be seen not as a sign of distrust but as a proactive measure toward a long-lasting marriage and happy future. It symbolizes mutual respect and forward-thinking, acknowledging the hurdles international couples may encounter. (And there are a lot more for international couples!) We encourage you to learn lessons from some of the unfortunate experiences of the 90-Day Fiance cast and consider getting a prenup to avoid all of the what-ifs and unknowns!
Julia Funke is a managing attorney at International Legal and Business Services Group LLP, a full-service immigration law firm serving clients across the U.S. She earned her J.D. from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law. When she’s not helping clients, Julia teaches immigration law at a local public college. To connect with Julia for your immigration-related needs, please reach out to [email protected]