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The pros and cons of prenups

You've probably heard a lot about prenuptial agreements (also known as "premarital agreements," "premarital contracts," or perhaps most widely as just "prenups"). Thanks to the media coverage of celebrity divorces, as well as the influence of television shows and movies, you may envision them as seemingly evil things that are used only by the very wealthy for the purpose of keeping their poorer former spouses from getting a fair share of marital assets.

Nothing could be further from the truth. These surprisingly versatile legal documents can actually serve a wide range of purposes for soon-to-be-married couples.

Laying all the cards on the table

It may seem awkward to think about proposing a prenup before your marriage. The whole topic can be seen as unromantic, clinical, or detached, or even that you anticipate your marriage will fail. Try very hard not to fall into that trap. At the end of the day, prenups are about protection, pure and simple. They are, in some ways, like divorce "insurance." After all, you don't anticipate that your home will burn down, but you have insurance to protect you in case it happens, right?

Prenups force you - and your prospective spouse - to lay all your financial cards out on the table. Not only will you have a frank discussion about your current economic situation (debts, assets, heirlooms), you'll also be able to understand where each other's priorities lie. If, for example, you want to make sure that certain assets are protected for a special needs loved one or a child from a previous relationship, now is the time to make that known, and to document it in a legally enforceable contract. This will save you time and energy in the event of a divorce.

Prenups can also be used to:

  • Delineate separate versus marital assets
  • Set aside particular items (like collectibles or things with sentimental value) to stay with one spouse
  • Outline ownership terms of family businesses
  • Protect one spouse from the debts of another
  • Set out the terms of spousal support/alimony should the marriage end

As versatile as they may be, prenups do have some limitations. For more information about what prenups can - and cannot - do for you, speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.

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