Guest Column

Getting engaged this Valentine’s Day? Don’t forget the prenup

February 8, 2019
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You’ve got roses, a romantic dinner and the diamond ready to go, but if you’re getting engaged this Valentine’s Day, you may want to include a prenuptial agreement in your planning.

How do you broach the subject when you’re in the moment of love, joy and wedding planning? When you’re looking forward to planning your lives together, it can be hard to bring up the idea of a prenuptial agreement, but it’s also a necessary conversation to have.

Prenups outline how assets and income are disposed in the event of death or dissolution of the marriage. They are common in a number of circumstances:

  • Family businesses: Prenups may be required by a family constitution to avoid creating problems with trusts or other assets that may be passed down between generations.

  • Second marriages or older couples: Prenups offer protection of assets that each spouse brings into the marriage, ensuring protection of children from prior relationships and their inheritances.

  • Inequality of assets: Prenups are fairly standard where one spouse brings more wealth into a marriage than the other.

But that still leaves the question: How do you break the ice on an otherwise taboo topic?

The earlier the better

If you have a wedding a year down the road, it’s not too early to start planning now. You don’t want to try to cram in lawyer meetings between venue planning and cake tastings by first proposing a prenup a month before the wedding ceremony.

I once had a couple sign a prenup in the parking lot right after their rehearsal dinner, which was extremely uncomfortable because of the timing. Anything that close to the wedding looks like pressure or coercion. While there’s no rule in Michigan, anything within 30 days of a wedding date is, in my book, in the “danger zone.”

I recommend starting talks at least six months in advance. That gives plenty of time for fiancé/e being asked to respond to wrap his or her head around the request.

A good prenup must:

  • Provide a full disclosure of all financial and material facts

  • Be fundamentally fair when created so that a change in circumstances between the signatures and potential enforcement won’t render it unenforceable

  • Be reviewed by each party with independent legal counsel well in advance of the marriage

  • Not be the product of coercion, pressure or undue influence

The very idea of a prenup may make the other spouse feel threatened — or worse. It’s common to hear, “You must love your money more than me,” but that’s not the case. Sometimes family constitutions will require a prenup to avoid potential problems in the case of divorce when a multigenerational family-owned business is involved.

I often recommend my clients and their soon-to-be-spouses see a therapist for relationship counseling to help relieve any potential conflict or jumpstart a discussion that has reached an impasse.

A qualified marriage therapist can help the couple work through issues of money, family expectations, division of duties, household expenses, employment, career options, etc.

On more than one occasion, pre-marriage counseling has actually saved the relationship and put the engagement back on track. A good therapist can even assist in sort of a mediator role to help bridge the gap in some of the terms of the proposed prenuptial agreement.

Every prenup supposes divorce or death, neither of which are pleasant topics when planning for happily ever after. Give yourself plenty of time — and plenty of patience — to work through this item on your pre-wedding checklist.

Richard A. Roane is a partner at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP who has more than three decades of experience in family law and domestic relations. He can be reached at rroane@wnj.com.

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