Depending on your age, you may think of the TV show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" touting champagne wishes and caviar dreams, or possibly Kanye West lamenting in his song "Gold Digger," when you think of prenuptial marriage agreements.
These agreements are becoming more commonplace, say legal experts. But do you need one?
According to Christina M. Davis, attorney and shareholder at Sinclair Law Office, PC in Tyler, "You may. Some of the most common categories of people who enter into premarital agreements include people with prior marriages, those who own businesses or may become owners of businesses, often family businesses, and people with children or grandchildren from prior relationships."
Many people are signing prenups before walking down the aisle, and these couples are not necessarily extraordinarily wealthy or dealing with financial inequality. Many simply choose to lay all of their financial cards on the table before the big day.
While most people don’t like to think of marriage this way, the truth is marriage is not only a romantic relationship, it is also a business relationship. This dual nature of marriage has led to increased acknowledgment that a prenup can be useful to protect each spouse's financial interests.
Although gaining in popularity, marital agreements are nothing new. They've been around for thousands of years. In fact, in the United States, they were necessary before the 1848 Married Woman's Property Act became law.
Before that, everything a woman owned or inherited would be transferred to her husband. In the event of his death or a divorce, she would stand to lose everything. Things are not quite so dire now. Many states are community property states — Texas is one.
A prenup can be used for people who have significant property or assets acquired before the marriage. Sometimes they are put in place to protect what may be acquired in the future.
"For example," cites Davis, "if a person just started a new business when the person gets married, maybe the business does not yet have significant value, but it could grow into $1 million company one day, the value of which could be subject to being divided by a court if the person gets divorced. The person could put a premarital agreement in place stating that the business and all assets owned by the business are agreed to be the separate property of the person, and thereby not divisible in a divorce proceeding."
Financial assets are not the only things covered in modern-day prenups.
Davis says, "I have had clients in the past want to ensure that if the client died, their spouse could continue living in the marital residence, which was the separate property of the client, and the client’s children couldn’t kick the spouse out."
More couples are adding "lifestyle clauses," a trend started by celebrities. Instead of focusing on what happens in the event of a divorce, a lifestyle clause emphasizes what occurs inside the marriage.
So what do lifestyle clauses include? Fidelity clauses are the most common, but there's no limit. One bride-to-be limited her husband to watching one Sunday football game with friends a month, according to online legal services company LegalZoom and another marriage contract limited visits from the bride’s mother-in-law.
People who co-parent often include clauses that limit the amount of time their partner can spend online.
Be forewarned and approach a lifestyle clause with caution. They are unevenly enforced, according to legal experts.
If you decide to utilize a prenuptial marriage agreement, here are a few things to keep in mind.
— Discuss the agreement early in the relationship. It's best not to wait until you're ready to walk down the aisle.
— Be honest. Don't hide thoughts and feelings. Or assets.
— Hire separate attorneys, so you both have proper representation.
Davis cautions couples of the high emotional and financial cost of divorce and offers this to consider, "No one begins a marriage looking into the future at a potential divorce, however in the unhappy event of divorce a premarital agreement can reduce or completely eliminate argument over the division of property, among other issues, and save the parties many of thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees."