What is a pre-nup and why do you need one?

09 Aug 2021

Find out more about prenuptial agreements and how they can protect you and your partner, for better or worse

Words: Charlotte Murphy

What do you know about pre-nups?

Maybe you assume these agreements are only for the rich and famous, designed to protect people who have millions in the bank. If so, you’ll be surprised to hear that pre-nups are becoming increasingly popular with the general public.

Read on to learn more about what they entail and why you should consider signing one.

What is a pre-nup?

What you’ve undoubtedly heard referred to in the movies as a 'pre-nup' is actually a prenuptial agreement, a contract that’s signed before a wedding. The contract’s purpose is to establish the financial element of your relationship. Its content outlines how funds and assets will be managed during your marriage and, crucially, what would happen to them in the event of a divorce.

Culturally, we are accustomed to discussing marriage in romantic terms and that’s why the concept of a pre-nup can offend our sentimental sensibilities. However, we should remember that marriage is ultimately a legal union. There’s official paperwork involved, after all.

The process of writing and signing a prenuptial agreement, then, simply clarifies the legal rights that you’ll acquire and abandon by agreeing to marry.

Origins of the pre-nup

Although they may have only gone mainstream recently, there’s nothing new about pre-nups. In fact, the first one can be traced all the way back to ancient Hebrew times. Jewish marriage contracts called Ketubahs share a very similar purpose to our modern, secular prenuptial agreements. Another milestone for the pre-nup was the 1848 Married Women’s Property Act. This wrote into American law that married women would inherit their husband’s estate. Property law of the past could be very prejudiced against women, even forbidding them to own a home or a bank account without their husbands’ permission.

Most likely as a response to the increase in women working outside the home, prenuptial agreements started to become popular in the early 1980s. They’ve only become more common in the years since then.

Advantages of a pre-nup

There are three main advantages to signing a pre-nup:

1. It pre-empts any future problems

Nobody likes to acknowledge the possibility of a break-up just as they’re about to be married. However, it pays to be pragmatic. Should something unexpected occur, you don’t want it to be made even worse by lengthy, expensive legal processes.

2. It can protect your property

If you own a family heirloom, for example, and you’d like to legally assert your ownership, then this is an ideal opportunity to do so.

3. It can ensure economic security

Once you’ve established what would happen in the worst imaginable circumstances, you’re free to focus on building an amazing relationship. A pre-nup can provide peace of mind; both of you will have proven you’re with one another for romantic reasons, having addressed the economic ones head-on.

Common objections debunked

Even though prenuptials are becoming more and more routine, there are still persistent cultural myths about what they really mean. Here, you can see some of these common objections debunked:

Myth: It means you don’t think the marriage will last

Most people who get married presumably believe that their relationship will last forever. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to sign a pre-nup to prepare for all eventualities. Ensuring that your partner will be economically solvent no matter what happens in the future should be seen as further evidence of deep, unconditional love.

Myth: It starts your marriage off on the wrong foot

Actually, it starts your marriage off with realism, transparency, and direct communication. Money is a notoriously difficult subject for married couples to discuss. If you’re able to do so effectively before the wedding, this is a great sign for the future of your marriage.

Myth: It’s only for very wealthy people

Think about it; the very wealthy will probably be fine, even if do they end up losing some assets due to divorce. Ordinary people have much more to lose because their shared assets are more likely to be all that they have. A pre-nup can ensure that you and your partner will always enjoy a level of economic security.

Myth: Its only purpose is to protect the richer partner

Both partners can benefit from the drafting and developing of a just prenuptial agreement. Participating in this process will provide clarity over the funds, property and debts that you each bring to the relationship. In this way, it’s a great financial check-in that can avoid any scary surprises later on.

Now you know what a pre-nup is and why you need one, don’t forget this important contract when it comes to wedding planning.

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