Guest post by Brandon A. Bernstein, an experienced divorce lawyer in Maryland, who helps clients with a wide range of family law issues, including divorce, prenuptial and separation agreements, child support and custody, and more. Mr. Bernstein was named to the 2014 Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in Maryland. His practice, the Law Offices of Brandon Bernstein, is based in Bethesda.
Prenuptial agreements may be regarded as taboo or unapproachable for some people, especially those who consider themselves to be in happy, positive and lifelong relationships. However, prenuptial agreements have their place, and they serve an important role. Here are a few top ideas to remember that will help you understand prenuptial agreements and their roles and benefits more clearly.
1. Prenups aren’t just for unhappy people who may be expecting to get a divorce one day but are going through with the marriage for the time being. You can be perfectly content in your relationship, but still want to take certain precautions and measures should anything change in the future. Many couples with prenuptial agreements in place remain happily married for many decades, including until the end of their lives. As such, it’s certainly not a guaranteed precursor, or plan, for divorce.
2. Prenups aren’t just for the wealthy, either. Bringing a great deal of wealth into a new marriage from either your family or your business pursuits, or anything else, may indeed be one reason why a prenup is desirable. That said, it’s certainly not the only situation, either. The financial circumstances of both halves of a relationship, their family finances, their current and potential future jobs and salaries, and much more, should all be taken into account. Even then, they only represent a portion of what may be set into order with such an agreement.
3. Prenuptial agreements may actually financially protect your partner heading into a marriage. In this case, if you have a substantial amount of debt heading into a marriage, a prenuptial agreement could limit the spouse’s financial responsibility or liability for those prior debts.
4. A prenup may also define specific financial aspects of a marriage, including how you handle certain financial responsibilities and circumstances, or other household issues. For example, a mandate to put aside a savings account for a child’s college.
5. What a prenuptial agreement cannot define or dictate are non-financial matters related to a marriage. For instance, you can’t make your partner sign that he or she will always want to live on the East Coast, never get more than two cats, or pursue a new skydiving hobby.
6. Verbal or handshake deals don’t count as legally binding prenuptial agreements. So, you may have agreed in principle on certain points while you were dating or married, i.e., you get the dog and I keep the boat, but you can’t legally hold the other person to that when the time comes. If you want to make a real agreement about something and have that locked in place, it needs to be written and signed in order to be legally enforceable.
7. Maryland courts operating under equitable distribution will provide the easiest, most hassle-free resolution to any divorce when a prior, proper agreement has been made and remains valid. A prenuptial agreement offers an “end” which is as straightforward and smooth as possible, often enabling a more amicable ending as well.
Of course, there are many other considerations as well. For instance, if you enter a marriage with a child from a previous relationship, there are more complexities should this marriage end badly. The most important thing to remember and the biggest tip of all is that prenuptial agreements may apply to many more couples than many people think, they aren’t a signal of doom, and they serve a variety of important functions.