It is February 14th and love is in the air. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked one of our Law Fellows, Attorney Hannah Fujimaki, to share some of what she has learned since delving into the world of family law.
Her response? “‘Prenup’ means ‘I love you.’” Hannah wants to destigmatize prenups for soon-to-be newly-weds, and help couples to understand that a prenuptial agreement that you work on together can actually be an expression of love, trust, and protection for your partner and yourself. Here’s what she had to say:
In court, divorce is about the numbers. Each state has their own default rules for how to divide assets and debts and what to consider for spousal support. Those default rules often force a division of assets or debts in a way that negatively impacts a spouse’s sense of fairness or ability to survive financially after divorce. A valid prenuptial agreement can help to protect what is important to both partners.
Below are three reasons why every couple should consider a prenup:
You Still Love Each Other. What better time to decide how to treat each other in the event of a divorce than well before you sign that marriage certificate? In the throes of a divorce proceeding, you may no longer respect your partner and each of you could be acting to make the other’s life miserable.
Marriage Without a Prenup leaves a lot to chance. If you get married without a valid prenup, you are signing up for the default divorce rules in whatever state the divorce is filed. Sure, you can try to come up with an agreement after you get married; but if you disagree with each other on certain fundamental issues, you are stuck with those default rules. Also, the enforceability of post-nuptial agreements is not guaranteed in every state. For example, in the state of Maine, money earned during the marriage is marital property, even if you contribute those earnings to a retirement account. If it rubs you the wrong way for your retirement account to be up for grabs in the event of divorce, a prenup gives you and your spouse the opportunity to make your own rules. In a prenup you can decide for yourselves how things should be “fairly” divided between the two of you based on what you two think is fair in your specific circumstances. Before marriage, you both have the best bargaining positions. If it becomes apparent that there are fundamental disagreements, you can seek legal advice, have further discussions, delay wedding plans, or simply walk away.
Financial Awareness and Asset Protection. You can learn a lot about your future spouse from these important conversations about where bank accounts are, if they have a retirement account or stocks, and how much debt they have before marriage. Prenups are not just for rich people. Prenups help to protect what you have now, before you get married, by creating a record of what you each bring to the marriage, and, to a larger extent, prenups help you protect what you will have in the future, after you are married. Furthermore, prenups help prompt conversations about how much credit card, personal loan or mortgage debt the two of you are willing to incur during the marriage.
To most people, the words “divorce” and “prenup” sound negative and should be avoided. But as a lawyer, I view divorce and prenups as mechanisms to promote the idea that people deserve to be in happy and healthy relationships. We should talk about it more openly and be more informed. If you’re considering marriage, talk with a lawyer, even if it’s just for a consultation, so you can make wise and informed decisions about a possible prenuptial agreement.
If you are interested in working with one of the attorneys at the Maine Community Law Center, please visit our contact page or call 207-482-3832.