Let’s dive into the fascinating world of prenuptial agreements, or as the youngins call them, “prenups.” These legal documents are pretty common in many Western cultures, but the perspectives on them can be quite diverse, influenced by different cultural factors. For example, in the U.S. prenups are widely accepted, in fact, 50% of U.S. adults are open to signing one. Why does this matter? Well, understanding the cultural intricacies of a prenup may have an effect on those lovebirds opting for a prenup in a mixed-culture relationship. Let’s discuss!
Individualist vs. Collectivist Cultures
Let’s talk about individualist cultures and collectivist cultures and their beliefs on prenups. Individualist cultures, like the United States, emphasize autonomy, self-reliance, and personal rights. Collectivist cultures, like China, prioritize family and community commitment over individual interests. In the U.S., therefore, prenups are relatively common and are considered more socially acceptable. They are seen as a pragmatic tool for couples to protect personal assets in case of divorce, as well as a way to clarify who does what when it comes to financial roles and responsibilities.
Prenups in the U.S. often specify that any property brought into the marriage remains separate. In fact, over 70% of HelloPrenup users classify their income earned during marriage as separate property in their prenups. In addition, inheritances and gifts given during the marriage also frequently stay with the recipient spouse in individualist cultures. Overall, prenups in individualist cultures like the U.S. emphasize financial autonomy for each individual rather than the couple as a whole.
In comparison, collectivist cultures may be more likely to view prenups as contradictory to values of lifetime loyalty and shared sacrifice between spouses. This is based on the notion that their culture puts an emphasis on community rather than individuality. In many of these cultures, finances may also be considered a private matter between spouses, not to be discussed openly with outside parties, such as an attorney. As a result, prenups tend to be rare in collectivist cultures, and even considered taboo.
International differences in marital property laws also shape prenup norms and requirements. For example, prenups may carry more weight in certain countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada where marital assets are commonly owned. Assets and debts accrued during marriage are generally deemed “marital property” subject to division in the event of divorce–unless a couple takes steps (like a prenup) to stipulate otherwise. Prenups thus have importance for diverging from default rules. These legal nuances contribute to cultural views on prenups as well as how they’re written.
Attitudes towards prenups also diverge based on religious beliefs, which shape societal values. For instance, Christianity teaches that marriage is a divinely ordained covenant relationship. As God intends unity, prenups signal a lack of faith in his will and plan. However, acceptance varies across denominations. Roman Catholics allow prenups as long as the terms are fair and morally sound. On the other hand, Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians strongly oppose prenups as undermining God’s design.
Jews, on the other hand, are one religious group that may be more amenable to prenups than most. In fact, 84% of orthodox Jewish rabbis in the US require couples they marry to obtain prenuptial agreements–although in this case, it’s for a particular purpose having to do with female protection from unfair practices by exes exploiting the nuances of Jewish divorce laws. Still, the trend also extends to secular Jewish Israelis, among whom prenups are all the rage.
For devout Hindus, on the contrary, prenups are viewed as having limited applicability because divorce and remarriage are discouraged and matchmaking is arranged within castes. Islamic law, however, allows prenuptial contracts specifying mahr, or a mandatory gift in the form of payment from husband to wife at the time of marriage.
Cultural differences within countries also impact prenup norms.Demographic factors such as age, race, and immigrant status may play a role in who gets a prenup. For example, lower-income, minority, and/or immigrant couples marrying younger may be less inclined to get a prenup, as they may believe it is irrelevant to them. On the other hand, people with more assets may be more likely to want a prenup. According to a private HelloPrenup study, the most common age of people that got a prenup through HelloPrenup were age 31-35. This reiterates the notion that couples that have accumulated more assets and gotten married later in life may be more likely to get a prenup.
Historically, gender roles have also impacted views on prenups. Since men traditionally held more economic and social power, women signing prenups frequently meant conceding divorce rights and assets they otherwise would obtain. However, this is a harmful myth that prenups only protect the wealthy spouse. It is untrue. Prenups also protect the lesser-earning spouse in various ways.
In addition, modern gender dynamics are evolving. As more women gain financial independence and marry later, many now request prenups to protect assets and businesses they own. Such provisions do away with past gender norms and stereotypes surrounding prenups while granting autonomy to each spouse rather than presuming joint finances.
To wrap it up, prenups are heavily shaped by cultural context globally.
While prenups remain controversial in some communities, they are on the rise in other cultures. Appreciation of the cultural nuances underpinning attitudes towards prenups translates to better communication as a couple and agreements that satisfy both partners’ sets of needs. With thoughtfulness and creativity, prenup terms can be tailored to respect both cultural traditions and modern couple dynamics.
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]