Prenup dilemmas - how to talk about prenuptial agreements

In this article I'm hoping to help you to consider the potential difficulties of talking about a prenuptial agreement (or 'prenup'). The agreement would take care of the 'business side' of your relationship, should it come to an end. But... how romantic is that?

Would a discussion about prenups change the way you see each other? Maybe, but if it's handled sensitively it could be a really worthwhile discussion to have - whether or not you opt for a prenup or cohabitation agreement.

The latter is particularly important as there's very little legal provision or protection for you if you were to go your separate ways.

What are prenuptial and cohabitation agreements?

You or your partner may have assets (money, property or possessions) you want to protect before the two of you 'officially' commit to each other. The protection that a prenuptial agreement (also called a premarital agreement) or a cohabitation agreement offers can secure your wealth. It can also protect you against the impact of your partner's personal debts if sadly the marriage breaks down.

A prenuptial agreement can also define other conditions, for example the level of support offered to one or the other should you separate, have an affair, move abroad and so on.

My advice here on this page is designed to help you consider the signing of a prenuptial agreement before your marriage or civil union, and what it means for your relationship.  For legal advice, do hop over to my page about how to find the best lawyer.

So much for romance!

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that you don't have a 100% guarantee that you and your partner will be together forever. Perhaps you've already been in a relationship or marriage that's gone sour and experienced all the pain, hassle and detrimental financial implications that accompanied the breakdown.

I so understand that when you're getting married, discussing the financial consequences of a potential break-up can feel brutal and cold. You may even feel that just thinking and talking about it might be tempting fate if you're that way inclined.

The very thought of prenups may make you cringe. After all - the act of getting married is supposed to mean a commitment for life, based on love and trust. By signing a prenuptial agreement (or if you're considering cohabiting, a cohabitation agreement), it might seem as though in a sense you're revealing some ambivalence about the trust you place in each other and the level of your commitment.

However, since you've landed on this page, the likelihood is that one of you is totally aware that your marital and/or financial landscape could potentially change at some point in the future.

And there are reasons for considering a prenup agreement other than anticipating that your marriage or civil union could crumble.

Why even consider a prenup agreement?
- 4 factors that might influence the decision

Here are some reasons for wanting to sign a prenup (or premarital) agreement that have little to do with the health - or otherwise - of your relationship.

Maybe the initiator of the prenup...

  1. Grew up in a dysfunctional environment, where a sense of security and safety were at a premium - hence they have a seemingly disproportionate level of mistrust
  2. Has already been through a marital break-up or has experience of a partnership turning sour
  3. Experiences family pressure - anxiety about wealth and control, as well as cultural background, can all play a part
  4. Has fears about potential demands from your family
  5. Shows signs of abusive behaviour

How healthy is it to express your doubts?

In my view it's much healthier to express insecurities and anxieties about the durability of your marriage, rather than to pretend they don't exist.

These days all of us are sadly well aware of the divorce rate. To insist that it isn't going to happen to you really doesn't improve your chances of staying together until your dying days I'm afraid! But then, I guess you probably know that anyway...

I really recommend that you do some homework to ensure you know how the law regarding prenup agreements applies in your situation. There are significant differences between countries and states.

However, it is imperative that both parties have independent legal advice when drawing up a prenup and agree to full disclosure. That means two lawyers involved rather than one.

So, what are you going to disclose?

Independent legal advice and your relationship

If you or your partner want to draw up a prenup agreement, both of you will need independent legal advice. But if you have a partner who likes to be in control, he or she may not like this idea. They may subsequently show an unhealthy interest in who you've talked to and the advice you've been given.

If you feel under any pressure at all, you should of course discuss this with your lawyer. Prenups and cohabitation agreements must be signed voluntarily and without duress.

Although you'll need to give full disclosure of your assets, the legal advice itself is of course confidential. However, your partner may expect you to share the advice you've been given.

But what if it includes something you'd be reluctant to discuss? How much would you want to disclose, if your future spouse was to ask you some direct questions?

Read on in Part 2 to discover some of the awkward questions involved with prenuptial agreements, and for tips for a more fruitful discussion...

Prenup agreements - awkward questions and dilemmas

Are you struggling with a prenuptial dilemma? Are you unsure about what you do - and don't - want to disclose to your partner? 

Here are three options for you to consider before getting legal advice...  

  1. You could lie. Could you? Really? Clearly this is not an option. Once you start, where would you stop? As I'm sure you're well aware, the truth is very likely to 'leak out' some time in the future.
  2. You could say that you'd rather not discuss it. That would be honest, but how would your partner respond to that? And what would that say about your relationship? You may be reminded of one of those conversations during which you agreed that you wouldn't hide any secrets from each other. So what now?
  3. You could decide to be totally frank and open with your partner. However, that might have unacceptable implications for your family. Potentially sensitive family matters would become public knowledge. You may be acutely aware of the need to 'keep it in the family', but is your partner? Remember that there may be a (perceived) need for him or her to discuss the details of your business (in the widest sense of the word) with their family.

Tips for a fruitful discussion about prenups

Ideally you'd both be totally realistic about discussing prenuptial agreements and from the start accept that...

  • more families than you'd imagine do indeed have their secrets (who hasn't heard about somebody's skeletons tumbling out of a cupboard?)
  • your partner (particularly if they're the one who asked for the prenuptial agreement) is likely to want to keep certain matters to him/herself
  • you too may well have secrets that you wouldn't want to discuss, whether or not these are financial matters

For the most constructive way to talk about a prenuptial agreement, you'll need to discuss:

  • the emotional impact of arranging a prenup - without judgement. How does it feel? What are your fears? Who or what would you want to protect?
  • the limits of confidentiality - as per above
  • the reasons that stop you wanting to disclose certain matters

When talking to your partner you might want to phrase it along these lines:

 "I'm sure you're already aware that my parents / siblings are very (understandably) sensitive about ... (for example: those missing assets / that debt / that inheritance). So I need to let you know that I will want to / feel obliged to / need to protect them."

Promised full disclosure but not sure you're getting it?

You might be someone who has a particular degree of emotional intelligence. If so, you'll soon pick up if your partner isn't quite as forthcoming as you might expect when discussing financial matters.

Another indication that your partner isn't totally honest may be (although not necessarily) their spending habits, especially if they don't match any bank or credit card statements you've seen. Are they guilty of financial infidelity?

Discussing divorce

Discussing the spectre of divorce might help you to talk openly about any insecurities you or your partner have. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you find that idea really scary. In fact, you might not find it easy to discuss any emotional stuff, let alone feelings of insecurity.

However, as a couple counsellor I've met too many people who knew in their hearts that they shouldn't have got married in the first place! An open and frank discussion may have prevented them making that huge commitment which - very sadly - turned out to be a terrible mistake.

Could you pluck up the courage?

I'd really love to give you the courage to be brave! Discuss your fears about what a prenuptial agreement means to you, and about what the future may hold. Rather than seeing it as a negative, you can turn it into a positive.  

The discussion could potentially provide a really solid basis for both of you to truly commit to doing all you can to ensure the long-term survival of your marriage.

Alongside your prenuptial agreement you can then make some decisions about what you can do - practically and emotionally -  to ensure the two of you can weather any storm and come out stronger.

If you need help - I can recommend you talk to one of our online experts.

Prenuptial agreements and divorce in a nutshell

In a nutshell, discussing divorce - and with it the possibility of a prenup agreement - isn’t about anticipating that you'll get divorced. Instead, it simply means talking about a future that nobody can accurately predict.

And if, after that discussion, both parties accept the need for a prenuptial agreement, that doesn't need to undermine the love you have for each other. In fact the opposite could be true.

If both partners approach the prospect of a prenup honestly and without cynicism, it can be a good way to take pressure off the relationship. You will have been honest about the future, anticipating the best, but not ignoring the possibility - however slight - of the worst. This will leave you both free to go into the next stage of your relationship with your eyes wide open.

Related articles

Common Relationship Problems
Relationship Compatibility Test
Money and Your Relationship
How to Save Your Relationship or Marriage

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