Once you become engaged, there’s more to tackle than setting a date and establishing a budget. There are incredibly important conversations to be had regarding topics like you and your partner’s feelings on children, lifestyles both now and in the futures, general finances, and yes, the P-word.
The word ‘prenup’ can cause goosebumps and strike fear into the eyes of couples — even if there’s a mutual agreement that a prenup is a good decision. However, you can rest assured that creating a pre- nuptial agreement can be a rather positive experience — and that you don’t need to be ‘filthy rich’ to need one.
Luckily, it’s easier than you think to figure out which situation(s) are most applicable to your relationship and use that as the starting point to having a productive discussion. Here are our ABCs of starting a conversation about prenups, as well as some discussion prompts to help you spark the conversation.
Having family money — and/or an existing net worth that is very high — is one of the most fabled reasons for a prenup. Bringing up the topic may be intimidating, both to the partner with a lot of wealth and to the partner without. Nevertheless, the first step to having a meaningful conversation about a prenup is ensuring that both people feel heard.
Discussion prompt: “I know this may not be a fun conversation, but I’m hoping it can be a positive and productive one. We both know that our wealth disparity is quite significant, but I still want to ensure that we both feel protected and valued if we get a prenup. What are your thoughts?”
In some cases, having your future spouse sign a prenup may be re- quired circumstances as per a trust or inheritance. Along the same lines of Exhibit A, it’s important that the partner with the ‘lesser’ re- sources realizes that this isn’t you putting a price on your marriage or expressing doubt about your relationship — it’s purely a necessary evil out of your control.
Discussion prompt: “For reasons that aren’t my own, I must sign a prenup with the person I marry. I hope that’s okay, and that you realize this is in no way a reflection on my perspective of our relationship. I want to make sure that your concerns are heard, and I never want you to think that I’m not all-in on you.”
Some people have a “What’s mine is mine” mentality, and for many couples getting married later in life, or who have a large age gap between then, this mentality is only logical. After all, we are living in modern times and statistics show that couples commonly live together before marriage, accumulate property and debt prior to marriage, and marry much later than previous. generations. A prenup is a great way to make it clear that you each have separate property that is yours exclusively. And, if the relationship were to end, you would each leave with what you came with.
Discussion prompt: “Our approach to finances has worked so far, and I’m hoping we can keep it up. Do you think a prenuptial agreement would be a good idea, that way we can ensure our financial independence no matter what?”
If one partner is a business owner, a prenup may be an excellent idea. The concept is two-fold: if the business ends up being very successful, the partner may want to protect themselves in case of divorce. On the other hand, if the business is unsuccessful and leads to debt, the partner may want to protect their spouse from being on the hook for failed business expenses.
Discussion prompt: “We both know that business can be hit or miss, and I don’t ever want my business to drastically impact our marriage. Have you ever thought about a prenup? I think it could benefit us both.”
If you and your future spouse are both owners of different businesses, you may want to delineate your business assets, expenses, and liabilities via a prenuptial agreement. (Note: If you own the same business, you should not only consider a prenuptial agreement, but also ensure that your legal documents are in line as formal business partners.)
Discussion prompt: “I know we both want to be successful in life and in business, and I’m optimistic we will. However, I think that it may be smart to explore a prenuptial agreement. I think it could set us up for future success.”
Sometimes partners each have children from previous relationships, so they want to do their due diligence as partners to pass wealth and/ or property on accordingly. When this is the case, it’s a great opportunity for you and your partner to express how important to express your mutual interests as well as the interests of your existing children. Additionally, if your children are old enough to be aware of what’s happening in the case of a divorce, knowing that you protected their interests will reaffirm them and make a stressful period less traumatic.
Discussion prompt: “I’m so glad that we’re entering this new phase of our lives and blending our families. Do you think a prenup would be a smart idea, so our children feel protected down the line?”
Finances can be tricky if one partner is entering the marriage with a child. Whether the spouse isn’t eager to adopt your child, the child’s other parent is very active and their life, and/or the child is old enough to advocate for themselves, it’s important to lay out exactly what would happen financially in the case of divorce.
Discussion prompt: “I want to make sure that we provide for Jane in the best way possible, and I don’t want our relationship to ever impact her negatively. Should we explore the option of a prenuptial agreement, just to see our options and how everyone can feel at ease?”
If one person has a lot of debt — especially student loan debt — it may be worth considering a prenuptial agreement. Having a prenup doesn’t mean you won’t help your husband or wife with finances while married, but it can absolve you of the burden to pay their student loans in the unfortunate case of a divorce.
Discussion prompt: “We both know that student debt is a huge bur- den, and I want to help take the load off of your back and pay it off together. That being said, I also think we should make sure that the debt is properly allocated in case things go south. Of course, that’s unlikely, but I think it’d be a peaceful decision for both of us.”
If one person is a stay at home parent — or is planning to stay at home in the future — a prenup is an excellent idea. Long gone are the days where only women were stay at home parents, and prenups have modernized accordingly. Nowadays, men frequently act as stay at home parents as well. Whether you’re a woman or a man, if you’re planning to stay at home with kids — or even just as a housewife or househusband — it’s important to make sure you’re protected for the future in a way that is satisfactory to you and your future spouse.
Discussion prompt: “I’m excited to stay home and keep the house and kids in order, and I think it’s a great financial and emotional decision for our family. I’m thinking that may mean we should have a prenup, though. We’ve got a great system right now, but if something were to happen I will have lost much of my earning power.”
This is quite a common occurrence: one person is awful with money. If this is the case, a prenuptial agreement will help start the conversation about saving and spending, help set healthy boundaries, and protect you in case of a divorce. Now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t necessarily share income and assets and/or that you’d refuse spousal support. (Those are different nuances.) If you’re simply worried about your partner doing things like racking up credit card debt, a prenup can help protect you from being liable for their reckless spending.
Discussion prompt: “I’m excited to spend my life with you — and we have a different view on how to save and spend money. I think a prenuptial agreement would help us start a productive conversation about household expenses and saving. Would you consider a mutually beneficial prenuptial agreement?”
So, you might not have massive family wealth, but you may have in- heritances and heirlooms that you are quite protective of. A prenup would ensure that, in the event of a divorce, those precious assets re- main yours. Remember: a prenup can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like. If you care about protecting anything from your great great grandmother’s diamond ring, to the Picasso your father gave you for your birthday last year (that happens to everybody, right? …just kid- ding) you can cover that with a prenuptial agreement.
Discussion prompt: “I’m really fond of grandma Jane’s diamond ring, and I’d love to keep it in the family. Would you be okay if I protected that via a prenup?”
Having a prenuptial agreement puts the power in your hands — in- stead of the hands of the state. (At least in most states, that is.) State laws can vary greatly, and without a prenup you and your partner could be subject to obligations you didn’t even realize. Having a prenup, in most states, overrides state divorce law.
Discussion prompt: “It’s obviously not fun to think of divorce, much less death, but perhaps it’s worth exploring a prenup. That way we can leave the decision in our hands — not state laws — should something happen.”
If one person has been married before, it may create a desire for either partner (or both!) to pursue a prenup. As someone previously married, you may know the ropes of divorce and may want a deeper feeling of security in your new marriage. If you’re the partner marrying someone who has previously been divorced, on the other hand, you may want the reassurance that you’re protected also.
Discussion prompt: “I have been divorced before, and would feel more secure in our relationship with a prenuptial agreement. It has more to do with my own past experience than with our relationship. Would you feel comfortable discussing the pros and cons of a prenup? I think it would be mutually beneficial for peace of mind.”
This is a more modern reason to pursue a prenuptial agreement, but a valid one nonetheless. You can use a prenup to ensure privacy in case of divorce. Especially in the age of social media, things can get nasty. Exes may disparage each other, endanger the other spouse’s credibility in a custody battle, and post private information while in the throes of divorce. A social image clause in a prenup can deter this behavior.
Discussion prompt: “We both agree that we like keeping our private life private, and I would hope that in the event of any relationship turbulence, we could still respect one another. I know that’s easier said than done, so what are your thoughts on a prenup with a social image clause?”
Your relationship was hot, heavy, and hurried. Some couples know each other for 2 weeks and end up married for 70 years, while other couples know each other for 7 years and end up married for 2 weeks. Nevertheless, if you haven’t known your partner for a substantial amount of time, it may be best to consider a prenup. Not only when you’re newly dating are you in the infamous ‘honeymoon’ stage, but you also haven’t fully explored the ins and outs of your future spouse’s personal or financial habits.
Discussion prompt: “I am excited as heck to marry you, and this has been a whirlwind romance in the best way. But, since things are still rather fresh, do you think we should cover all the bases in the form of a prenuptial agreement?”
Health issues are expensive, and health expenses can endanger the stability of your family unit should something go wrong. If your partner is sickly, you’ll want to support your spouse without putting yourself (or your children, if you have any) in financial distress.
Discussion prompt: “Medical bills can add up, and I always want to ensure that we can remain secure — no matter what happens. I think a prenup could help solidify that. What are your thoughts, and how can I make you more comfortable with the idea?
Addiction is hard, but that doesn’t mean you love your partner any less. However, it can be important to protect yourself — and to be honest, protect them — by being conservative about how assets can and will be used. This goes for any type of addiction: drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, or anything else. Addiction does not discriminate and is a shape shifter that can appear in many forms.
Discussion prompt: “Our shared goal is living a healthy life and sup- porting one another, and I’m totally committed to that. I believe in you fully, but we both know addiction is tough. In case of relapse, I think that a prenup could be a great way to cover our bases and ensure that we both have what we need to succeed, both now and in the event of a divorce.”
If one of you has an animal that was acquired prior to starting the relationship, it may seem obvious that the partner whose pet it originally was would get it in the divorce. However, pets can cause quite the debate. The other partner may say they fell in love with the pet, took more care of the pet, and/or allege that the pet loves them better/ would be happier with them.
Discussion prompt: “I know we both love Rover. It breaks my heart to even think about this, but what would happen if things didn’t work out between us? Would I keep him? Would we co-parent our fur baby? I think we should figure this out and perhaps create a prenuptial agreement.”
If you and your ex acquired a pet while you were married, things can be even messier. Pets are integral parts of a family, and they should be considered in the equation. Sometimes, if a couple has multiple pets, they’ll divide them up. Sometimes they’ll co-parent. Sometimes one partner will keep all the pets, so they won’t be distressed if separated. It’s important to keep not only your interests in mind, but your partner’s interests, your pet(s)’ interests, and most importantly, your pet(s)’ well-being.
Discussion prompt: “Our fur family brings me so much joy, and I want to always protect them with my whole heart. But what do you think we should do if we weren’t together anymore? How do you think we should handle where the pets live? I think, under this circumstance, a prenup could help create clarity.”
How do you split treasured items in half? Quite frankly, you can’t. This is where things get tricky (without a prenuptial agreement). Treasured items you’ve gained over time — like precious gifts, timeless souvenirs, and irreplaceable mementos — can cause friction during divorce proceedings. Be proactive by outlining who keeps what, as well as determining a process for who would keep what when it comes to items acquired in the future.
Discussion prompt: “I love walking by that hand-made vase that we got in Morocco; it always makes me smile. However, it did get me thinking: should we consider a prenuptial agreement? In the unlikely case we were to split up, I don’t want to argue with you over our precious belongings.”
Rule 1: Know thyself. If you’re an anxious person in general, a prenuptial agreement may make you feel at ease. Even if the prenup is quite standard—you can feel confident regarding exactly what is yours and what is your future spouses.
Discussion prompt: “This isn’t about you whatsoever, but you know I have an anxious mind. Would you be open to coming up with pre- nuptial terms — that you agree with — so my mind can feel at ease?”
Ethical clauses (aka Lifestyle Clauses) have become quite common in prenuptial agreements,. No one wants to think of their partner cheating or doing something foul, but unfortunately it happens. If you’re okay splitting things 50/50 down the line (or some other mutual division of assets), but want that negated in the case the other person does something awful, you can create a prenup that includes appropriate clauses. Please note that lifestyle clauses are not enforceable in all states- and, the type of clause that will be enforced varies state to state. For example, infidelity clauses are enforced less than other lifestyle clauses, like a social image clause.
Discussion prompt: “I trust you wholeheartedly, but over time some- times couples grow apart. Would you be open to a prenup for the sake of an infidelity clause? We’re only human, and I want to protect us both. After all, it’s better to tackle this now and never have to deal with it, then to never tackle it and then something happens.”
A prenuptial agreement means you can be on to something new sooner. Getting divorced isn’t fun for anyone, and it’s even less fun when you’re forced to constantly live in the past, instead of moving on to your future. The quicker you can move on to better and brighter things, the better.
Discussion prompt: “In the event of a divorce, I would hope that we’d want the other person to be happy — not spend months in court fighting. Would you be open to making a prenup together? I’m always going to want you to be happy, and should we not work out I want to be sure that we can both move on to new beginnings.”
Having a prenup can save money in the long run. Simply put: in the unfortunate case of a divorce, a prenup is a much smarter investment than costly and contentious divorce proceedings.
Discussion prompt: “I don’t even want to consider the thought of divorce one day, but before we tie the knot I want to figure some things out. Would you consider getting a prenup, even if solely for the purpose of precaution? I don’t think divorce will ever be on the table for us, I think we can both agree that it’s better to be proactive than to go broke paying expensive attorney fees.”
Discussing a prenuptial agreement doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, it often serves as a springboard to discuss finances as a whole. What’s not to like about that?
Discussion prompt: “I’ve been thinking about how exactly we’ll handle finances. What are your thoughts on who should handle what, like budgeting and investing? Should we explore a prenup just to make our responsibilities clear?”
A prenup doesn’t always have to mean that one partner gets “screwed.” Sometimes prenups are as simple as a document that eliminates the ambiguity that sometimes exists during divorce proceedings.
Discussion prompt: “I never really thought I’d get a prenup, and I’m still unsure about whether or not we should have one. I’ve been thinking, though, that maybe we should learn more about our options and make sure that we’re both going into marriage feeling confident and secure.”
Prenuptial agreements often get a bad reputation, but they are a valuable investment and a smart choice. Whether or not you decide to go through with a prenup is your choice as a couple — but regardless of your choice you should be sure to talk the decision through. Start the conversation early on, make sure both sides feel heard and valued, and remember that prenups don’t diminish your faith in your future marriage — it just eliminates the potential for headaches (and ya know, the financial ruin that often comes with a divorce) that don’t need to be had. And should things, feelings, or finances change, you can al- ways amend the terms of your agreement by creating a post-nuptial agreement.
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected].