You’re engaged: Congrats! Here’s how to tell your betrothed you need a prenup

By Tonya Graser Smith

I’m not a relationship expert per se. But I deal in relationships every day.

As a divorce lawyer, I help relationships come to an end – as peacefully and gracefully as humanly possible. Another of my roles as a family law attorney is helping clients prepare – via prenuptial agreements, or prenups – for their financial future, both together and individually. A prenup, also called a premarital agreement, isn’t just in case you divorce; it can also address legal matters if one of you dies.

So how do you tell the person you plan to marry that you need (or want) a prenup? Let me assure you it doesn’t have to be a relationship killer. Here are some thoughts.

Frame it as part of a larger financial discussion.

A wedding is choosing a cake and a band. A marriage is sometimes about a lot of less fun stuff, like finances. Will you keep all or some of your money separate? Who will be in charge of paying bills? What assets and debts are you each walking down the aisle with? What are your financial dreams and goals – home ownership, vacation home ownership, retirement at a certain age, college funds for the kids, being able to have one parent stay home with those kids?

The prenup conversation belongs in this larger discussion, and that should hopefully make it feel less like a relationship minefield. The question can simply be: Do we need a prenup? This gives each of you the opportunity to discuss if it makes sense. And sometimes there are estate planning steps, involving spousal waivers and how assets are titled, that you could make that would offer the protection you need. Or sometimes the existing default state laws will work just fine for you. You won’t know the answers until you talk with each other – and then bring in necessary legal counsel, such as family law and estate planning attorneys. Also keep in mind that you will each need your own representation.

Understand why you (or your partner) might need (or want) a prenup.

I could have called this section “Blame your parents or grandparents” or “Blame your business partner.” And here’s why: Sometimes things like family trusts or business operating and partnership agreements set for a requirement for prenups. Parents and grandparents want to protect their children and grandchildren’s assets from becoming marital property that would be divided in divorce. Business partners want to protect the business from a claim by a partner’s soon-to-be ex.

And while I would never say, “Blame the kids,” it is true that having children from a previous marriage might be another reason for you to consider a prenup. In any case, hopefully these different factors – totally reasonable factors – make this prenup part of the larger financial conversation less of a big deal.

This isn’t a discussion you want to delay.

Prenups are not the fun part of planning a wedding. And you don’t want to quash the joyful vibe by delaying the prenup process to the point that you are reviewing and signing these documents on the eve – or close to – your wedding day. I recommend you get started on your prenup at least six months and no less than three months before your big day. Of course, you can expedite it, but you’ll pay more in pre-wedding stress and attorney fees – and don’t forget you each need your own lawyer.

Here’s my final thought.

I want your financial decisions to be intentional, not accidental. Prenups are about being intentional, not accidental in planning your lives, individually and as a couple.

That’s what I always tell my clients about prenups – and I hope it helps you have your prenup conversation, too.