What is a Prenuptial Agreement?
Essentially a prenup is an agreement or contract made between two people who are about to get married. In the past, prenups were for the wealthy; nowadays they have become quite common, and are generally recommended for all couples who are about to marry.
A prenuptial agreement allows a couple to make their own rules for their relationship, rather than have the rules set by the state imposed upon them. There are three main stages of a relationship that are covered by a prenuptial agreement:
1. During the marriage: A prenup can cover what happens during a marriage, and the rules that the couple wants to live by. So, for instance, a prenuptial agreement can cover the mechanics of a joint bank account: what money is deposited in there, when it gets deposited, and how it gets used. A prenup can also cover details about a couple’s lifestyle during the marriage, or how credit card debt will acquired and dealt with.
2. At separation: A prenuptial agreement can also covers what happens immediately after a couple separates. When a couple separates, often there is a rush to court by the couple to determine the temporary arrangements that will be in place until the divorce goes through. A prenup can avoid this expensive and stressful scenario by setting out what happens on separation. The types of issues a prenuptial agreement can deal with include who stays in the marital residence, how attorney fees will be handled, and temporary maintenance.
3. At divorce or death: All relationships end – either by divorce or death of one of the couple. A prenup can set out what happens with the relationship ends, which is ordinarily upon a divorce being granted, but an also include what happens if one person passes away. The normal issues deal with are the division of property and spousal maintenance.
A prenuptial agreement can be as simple or as comprehensive as you wish it to be. For instance, it can deal with simply one issue – possibly the marital residence or a business, or an expected future inheritance, or it can deal in detail with all of the three stages listed above.
There is no such thing as a “standard” prenup – the agreement will be unique to the people to whom it applies. I’ve seen prenuptial agreements as short as 5 pages, and ones that are longer than 50 pages. That being said, there are some clauses I typically see in most prenups: each spouse’s separately owned property will remain his or her property, and each spouse will remain responsible for his or her own debts.
There are a number of different terms for a prenup, including: premarital agreement, antenuptial agreement, prenuptial contract, premarital contract, and antenuptial contract. These terms all mean the same thing. Different states simply use different legal terminology.
Note that family law is governed at the State level. This means that while a lot of general principles govern prenups across the country, each particular state has its own quirks that may need to be dealt with.