Marriage and Family — 07 December 2003
Are prenuptial agreements a wise idea?

Are prenuptial agreements a wise idea?

Requesting or signing prenuptial agreements is often a difficult decision. People who want them, feel embarrassed asking for them, those asked to sign them question the requestor’s commitment to the relationship. Advisors are often reluctant to recommend action either way. Why is this issue so difficult, and is there a gracious way to accommodate both partners needs?

Prenuptial agreements become an issue when there is a disparity in finances between the future husband and wife. The wealthier person wants to protect his or her assets should the marriage fail. The person with the lesser means may understand and may willingly agree to sign the legal document, but still may feel hurt and offended by the request.

The reason that prenuptial agreement, which may be financially well designed, is a source of discomfort to both parties, is that it is psychologically incompatible with the ideal image of marriage. The concept of marriage involves the belief that two people join together to create a union, based on love.

Love and money have always been complex opposites. Our culture reveres one and scorns the other as a reason to marry. Most people yearn for both. Many folklore tales glamorize those who gave up their wealth for love. Placing the partner’s worth in competition with the comforts of money has been negatively viewed. Those who love money more than loving another have been depicted as people with inferior moral fiber.

Currently, a “reality” television show has capitalized on this dilemma. Will the woman choose love or a million dollars? This has riveted millions of viewers to ponder their own decision had they had the option.

Those who encounter the decision in real life do not find it entertaining or light hearted. They are aware that the mere suggestion of a prenuptial agreement may imply some doubt as to the durability of their union. They also speak of feeling embarrassed to have to take action to protect their assets from the person they deeply love.
The respondent to the request also worries about the meaning money has to the future spouse and its correlation to love. Could a refusal to sign the document constitute the termination of the relationship? If so, how committed is the future mate and what are his or her values? If the relationship will not suffer by a refusal to sign the agreement – why have they been asked to do so in the first place?

Another concern to both mates is the imbalance of power money may impose. How will money be shared, spent, and considered in their life together? Will the wealthier person have more say due to greater financial freedom? Would the richer person feel used by the spouse if he or she contributes financially more than the mate?

Younger, first marriage partners are often less likely to have this imbalance. They may start with little or no financial means and may have a marriage of equals, sharing their income as they earn it. These couples are free to plan for their financial arrangement as their situation dictates.

Second or later life marriages or couples who have greater span in age may encounter the dilemma of prenuptial agreement. For many, the desire to preserve some funds for the children of the first marriage is the propelling motivation for the need for a financial agreement. It is not greed, selfishness, lack of love or commitment to the new spouse, but an honest obligation to their original family that forces them into this awkward position.

The new spouse may perceive this concern for the adult children as a statement about his or her lesser priority to the mate. The new spouse may be concerned about his or her financial security upon the demise of the partner and the complications that may later arise with the children.

In view of its complexity of arrangements and emotions, should one ask for or agree to a prenuptial contract?

Every couple should have prenuptial discussions about their values, wishes, aspirations, commitment, hopes and worries, regardless of their financial standing. They need to know each other well enough to trust the integrity, decency and love of their future spouses. They need to trust that their needs will be first and foremost in their partners’ mind and feel secure that they will be neither cheated nor taken advantage of by their future mates. Without the deep sense of love, trust, respect and admiration for each other no two people should wed.

The ease to ask any questions and be guaranteed honest and sincere replies is a basic requirement in a healthy relationship. Some couples who struggle with prenuptial agreements confess that they do not have the comfort to converse about certain topics and that deep down they may not trust each other. These are serious pre-warnings that perhaps their relationship is ill advised.

After the open and honest exchanges, if the wisdom of a prenuptial agreement becomes clear, it is wise for the less affluent partner to suggest creating the document that will take into consideration both parties needs. This document should encompass more than a disavowing of any claim to another’s funds. It should be a life plan of both individuals who are merging their lives into one. It should provide appropriate allowances for the emotional and financial comfort and safety of both. All concerns, fears, worries and hopes should be considered and options for all foreseen eventualities need to be clearly spelled out. The discussions leading to the agreements need to be done in a cooperative, considerate and loving manner.

Couples who trade the prenuptial agreement for a prenuptial life plan begin their lives together with understanding, mutual respect and fine tools for negotiating in good will. They are more likely to experience greater emotional comfort about themselves, their partners and their marriage.

Related Articles

About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

(0) Readers Comments

Comments are closed.