A prenup done right is freedom.
The little important conversations have been had with everyone, your partner, your children, your business associates, parents, grandparents. Everyone feels cared for, considered, secure and content. Even more than the understanding, the writing is in place. It’s codified. Everybody knows they’ve been planned for even if they don’t know the specifics. And if there are any questions, there’s something to refer to besides memory. If any changes are needed, they come with a clearly defined starting place.
With a legal document and the attendant disclosures comes more certainty. Assets, details of business relationships, control of resources, obligations, and liabilities, are all clear. And the communication, trust and love required to make those disclosures is there. All of the questions have been asked and answered. What is your business arrangement? What income do you bring home? What are we going to live on? What is going to be carved out for children? Neither partner has to be afraid of the answer to those questions or discover something shocking far down the road.
Freedom is the result when the little conversations have been had and the prenup itself is in place. It gives you a head start on your life together. It’s about so much more than finances, assets, or money, it’s a plan. It’s a path. It’s talking about what you want to do together, what you want to do individually, what you value, how you’re going to bring your lives together. Healthy and affirming.
The pathways for conversations big and small have been laid. The two biggest disagreement points in marriage are money and in-laws, for subsequent relationships add in kids and exes. When you’ve successfully worked through the prenup, you already have made a lot of these decisions and have a strong history of these kind of discussions. You’re having small conversations instead of big ones–working through something rather than blowing up.
When we do the prenup well, we’re taking care of all the people in our lives, each other, our kids, our families of origin, and even our business partners. All of those people are important and considered and they know it. They may not know the terms of the prenup, they may not be there for the conversations, but they know that they have been seen. They know they are important. They know that they are loved. They know that they’re a part of this new life that the two of you have together.
Society views a prenup as planning for divorce and keeping as much stuff for yourself as possible. It’s not; a prenup can’t even be written that way. It’s not a valid prenup if it’s unconscionable; the court will throw it aside. A prenup is not an adversarial matter, it’s open communication inside a loving relationship. It is love and caring in action. It’s showing up, listening to what your partner needs, how your partner feels cared about and making plans together for now and the future. A prenup is freedom.
When a prenup is done poorly, it’s a disaster.
Every single thing that you’ve heard in popular culture about the horror of prenups is exactly what happens. They can be relationship enders. There are three danger zones.
The first danger zone is, ironically, avoiding the prenup conversation altogether. Knowing it is something you need, knowing that you’re a grownup with a lot of people you’re responsible to, yourself, your partner, your children, your business associates, your parents, and maybe even your grandparents. All these people are important in your life and when you ignore the prenup conversation, your actions tell them they’re not important. It’s a destructive path.
Ignoring the issue may feel loving, “we don’t need to talk about this because we’re so in sync,” but when you avoid the prenup discussion, you’re saying the same thing to your partner–you’re not important enough for me to do the hard work of building a life together. I just want to stay here in fantasy land where it’s all wine tasting and trips to Tahiti. I’m not willing to do the challenging stuff to to ensure our relationship goes the distance. Although a common perception is that prenups are planning for divorce, they’re really about planning your lives together for each other and all the people that matter which is why avoiding it is so damaging.
The second way the prenup process can go wrong is when it’s motivated solely by an outsider. A parent to child may ask the question and perhaps even force the issue. When this happens and the parties don’t own it, there can be decades worth of repercussions and bad feelings. Let’s say a person in your life says, “Hey, you need to have the prenup conversation,” and begrudgingly you do. You go to your partner and you say, “Bob says we have to have a prenup.” Instead of laying all the good groundwork, and all the communication pathways, and all the trust, the process is short-circuited. It’s not motivated by the two of you planning your life together, it’s placating Bob. You end up with half conversations and an agreement that doesn’t represent you. A bad prenup is worse than no prenup.
The third way the prenup process can go wrong is the stuff of social legend, the bulldog approach. It can come from you, your partner or one of your attorneys. If anyone comes to the prenuptial conversation adversarially, perhaps patching over an approach that works well in arms length business transactions, its damaging. Perhaps you’re a top notch negotiator. You get things done. You get deals that nobody else does. When you bring that approach into a prenuptial conversation, it comes across as the opposite of trust and caring. A relationship cannot withstand an adversarial approach.
The bulldog could be one or both of the attorneys. You have to select your prenup attorney very, very carefully because we attorneys we are trained to fight for our clients. Some of us identify too much with our clients. Some of us really want to win. In many instances that is absolutely well placed. That’s what you want in someone who’s going to keep you out of jail, but prenuptial agreements are completely different. Bulldogs are not welcome here. Bulldogs rip up the furniture and make a mess on the floor. An attorney who does prenuptial agreements needs to have a spirit of cooperation, and an understanding that this is about a relationship. The primarily goal and objective is the enhancement of the relationship and that may require skills not taught in law school.
The need for a prenup occurs when there is a loving, caring relationship that’s worth taking to the next level. It’s time to get married or live together. The relationship is becoming very intentional. Be sure the prenup conversations are treated with love, trust, and concern about who your partner is, what they need, what they want, and what you’re building together.