We all know that planning a wedding, as exciting and wonderful as it is, can be stressful. Preparing a prenuptial agreement often adds to that stress, and can bring up emotional issues. The process you choose to create the agreement can make a difference.
Using mediation or a collaborative process can open up the lines of communication, allows you and your intended to make your wishes known, and start the marriage on a firm foundation. Instead of driving a wedge between you, it can draw you closer together.
Why do mediation and collaborative law work so well? They are both models for open and honest communication.
Instead of one partner presenting the other with a drafted document ready to be signed, both of you take the time to discuss your wants and needs together. The process encourages you each to talk openly about your finances, so all of the concerns around money are out in the open.
The prenup agreement can protect you both: It can help ensure that the non-moneyed spouse will be supported financially and the moneyed spouse can protect his or her assets in case of death or divorce.
Who needs a prenuptial agreement?
It used to be that prenuptial agreements were reserved for the wealthy. But there are many good reasons for the rest of us to consider putting together an agreement before you enter marriage. These may be:
• To protect an inheritance that you (or your parents) want to ensure stays in your biological family.
• To make sure that your family’s business stays with your birth family.
• To ensure that both you and your fiancé are financially supported during the marriage if there is a large difference in income between the two of you.
• To ensure that that you and your fiancé are protected from each others’ debts.
• If one of you has children from a previous marriage, to ensure that those children are protected financially.
Using mediation for a prenuptial agreement
The mediator meets with the couple and helps them create a space of open communication. This allows the couple to discuss everything that’s most important to them, including their fears, expectations, and insecurities around money in the marriage. You can use your sessions to talk about other issues, too, like whether you will have children, or where you will live. These are just a small smattering of things you might discuss. The point is that this is a good time to tell your intended about your hopes and dreams for your happy life together.
The mediator remains a neutral party who helps guide the conversation, clarifies points, and helps you make decisions together. The mediator can help you both go deeper into a conversation about sensitive issues. The mediator will then memorialize your agreement in writing.
You and your intended will each need your own lawyers to review the agreement before you sign it. You must have your own lawyer go over it with you to make the prenuptial agreement enforceable.
Using collaborative law for a prenuptial agreement
The collaborative law process involves the couple and two collaborative lawyers, one for each party. Collaborative lawyers are trained in mediation skills to help guide the conversation and create a safe space for the couple to discuss their values and goals, fears and insecurities around money in the relationship. You may bring in a neutral financial planner to help in the process.
Collaborative lawyers can answer legal questions and give legal advice on the spot, which you can use to help you make decisions together. At the end of the process, one lawyer will draft the agreement, and both will review it with their clients.
Both mediation and collaborative process keep you and your fiancé in the driver’s seat, and help you create an agreement that is tailor made to fit your situation.
What makes a good prenuptial agreement? Courts want to know that such an agreement is fair, and that you have entered into the agreement with your eyes open. Here are a few tips to ensure this:
• Start early. The sooner you start (and finish) the process, the better. Give yourself enough time to really think things out, and to gather all the information you need. A prenup signed days before the wedding may be seen as coercive.
• Hire your own collaborative or reviewing attorney. Speak to that person alone. Be honest about your hopes and fears. Interview a few to see who you are comfortable with.
• Be honest about your finances. The more open you are about what you have, the more you protect yourself in the future.
• Look carefully about what your spouse tells you about his or her assets. Does that make sense, given what you know about his/her spending?
• Think about the agreement. Is it fair? Will it leave you both with enough to live on? To rebuild your life? Does it sit right with you?
By opening a conversation about finances and other sensitive issues before the beginning of a marriage, you can ensure that your goals and values are aligned with those of your future spouse. Having these potentially difficult conversations using the mediation or collaborative process can make the agreement stronger, make your discussions easier, and help start your marriage off with open, honest communication and end with happily ever after.