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Pre-Nuptial. A Wise Move When You Love Someone.

Matilda is a 48 year old stay at home mother of three children. Her husband gives her an “allowance” everyLisa Abrams, Family Law Specialist.  A Prenuptial is a wise move when you love someone - Connections for Women. week. She has access to one credit card, and she has to provide an accounting of her expenses on a weekly basis. She does not know the bank account numbers; she does not know what her husband’s taxable income is on an annual basis. She has no idea if they have any retirement savings. She has not worked outside of the home for 15 years. Her husband complains that she spends too much money. And, now she’s getting divorced.

Beatrice is 28 years old with no children. She has been married for three years. She has a one million dollar trust fund which she inherited from her grandfather. She used a portion of her trust monies to purchase a house when she got married which she titled in both her name and her husband’s name. She has her Master’s Degree and works as a play therapist for children who have lost a parent. Her husband is age 27. He stays at home all day playing video games. He does not contribute to the parties’ finances at all, and instead, expects his wife to dip into the trust fund to make up for his lack of employment. They are getting divorced.

Financial stress is one of the commonly cited factors that lead to divorce. Often one spouse is completely dependent on the wage-earning spouse for money to support the family’s daily needs - including groceries, gas, children’s expenses, and clothing. She or he is not employed outside of the home, and is often unable to access any information about the financial status of the family.

Or, one spouse had significant assets or a business at the time of marriage which over time has morphed into new purchases or a new business. Sometimes the new purchases are titled jointly and sometimes they are not. The monied spouse grows resentful that he or she is using that sole and separate money to support the community expenses.

The best way to build a healthy foundation for a marriage is for the prospective bride and groom to discuss finances prior to marriage. A loving relationship requires honest disclosure about what each party owns, what each party earns, and what each spends before marriage as single persons as well as what each party expects will occur post-marriage.

  • Will you open a joint savings and checking account? Will you have your entire pay check deposited into a joint account or only a portion? Who will pay for the utilities, groceries, mortgage, car payments, car insurance, health insurance, etc?
  • Will you continue to contribute to a pre-marriage 401(K) or IRA? If so, what is the balance as of the time of marriage?
  • If you own a business, what is its value as of the time of marriage? What assets does your business own? Do you expect it to grow during the marriage as a result of you or your spouse’s work (paid or unpaid)?
  • If your business is new, will you be deferring your salary in order to get the business up and running?
  • If you plan on having children, will one parent stay at home? For how long? How easy will it be for one parent to step out of the workplace for a time period, and still be able to make a transition back in? How will the stay at home parent access money?
  • If you have a trust fund or sizable inheritance, do you plan to use it during the marriage to make purchases? If so, how will those purchases be titled?
  • If you own a house pre-marriage, will you continue to live there post marriage? Will you retitle the house in both of your names? If you pay the mortgage on your sole and separate pre-marriage house with your income post-marriage, did you know that the community will have a lien on your residence (in community property states)? What if you remodel your pre-marriage house using post-marriage earnings?
  • If you have a lot of pre-marriage debt, do you expect your spouse to help you pay for it during the marriage?
  • Does one spouse want to go to school? For how long? If so, how will you pay for tuition and make up for your lost income while you are in school?
All of these issues can be addressed in the context of a prenuptial agreement. The purpose of a prenuptial agreement is to create a legal document which provides full disclosure of each individual’s assets and debts, and outlines what you both expect to occur in the event that the marriage fails for any reason. The purpose is not to create a blueprint for divorce, but rather to build a foundation for a healthy long-lasting marriage.

Finances are a topic that makes most people uncomfortable. It is hard to reconcile how much money you actually spend on a monthly basis. If you have credit card debt that you just can’t explain, it can be embarrassing to disclose. One party may feel disempowered by his/her lack of earnings or a past bankruptcy. Nonetheless, these are all issues that must be raised prior to pledging to one another “for richer or for poorer.”

Before picking the perfect dress and the most decadent cake, make an effort to sit down with one another and outline your financial expectations. Do it when you are madly in love. It will be so much easier to talk about your weakness for shoes now, then at a time period when your relationship is experiencing some form of strain – as all marriages do. Talk to a family lawyer about drafting a non-punitive prenuptial agreement. Level the playing field. Be equal partners. And, the pre-nuptial agreement will most likely grow dusty in a file box as you grow old together.

Lisa Abrams is a partner in the Tucson firm, Karp, Heurlin, Weiss. A specialist in Family Law, she can be reached through the firm.

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