Prenuptial Agreement Law

What is Prenuptial Agreement Law?

Prenuptial agreement law sets forth the rules couples must follow when agreeing beforehand how assets and financial responsibilities will be handled at the end of their marriage. People who intend to marry are free to enter into legal contracts regarding these matters. But due to the potentially harsh results of a prenuptial agreement for the spouse against whom it is enforced, the law imposes specific requirements about what can and cannot be agreed to as a matter of public policy.

Like other aspects of matrimonial law, the rules governing prenuptial agreements are the subject of state law. More than half of the states have adopted model legislation known as the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA). Some of the legislatures in these states have modified the act to reflect their state’s goals and priorities, such as extending the act’s provisions to same-sex couples.

When deciding prenuptial agreement cases, judges have demonstrated a willingness to deviate from the terms an agreement to protect a disadvantaged party, at least more so than in other types of contract cases. This can come as a surprise to those with experience litigating contracts in the business world. Because of the risk that a prenuptial agreement will be held void for violating public policy, couples are strongly encouraged to consult an attorney for advice in this area of the law.

The Reason Prenuptial Agreements Exist

The purpose served by prenuptial agreements is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the entire legal system. Married and unmarried people alike often subscribe to the idea that these agreements come about as a result of distrust between future spouses, or that they are a means for wealthy individuals to protect themselves from potential spouses who are looking to marry for financial reasons only. Hence the notion that asking one’s fiancé to sign a prenuptial agreement is a romance-defeating gesture. All of this is incorrect.

To better understand the reason prenuptial agreements exist, consider that state legislatures are faced with the task of enacting divorce and inheritance laws that apply to every married couple living in the state. That is the way laws work – they are designed to apply to everyone. Unfortunately, not all couples have the same feelings about property rights, alimony, and other such issues.

Prenuptial agreements are nothing more than a way for couples to modify the laws of their state to bring them into accordance with the couple’s own views. Not everything about the law can be altered – future child support obligations cannot be done away with, for example. But generally, the one-size-fits-all divorce laws that would otherwise apply can be totally modified to suit the couple’s wishes. This can be especially useful to couples living in the handful of “community property” states who do not want to be subject to that system of property law.

Commonly Types of Agreements

Most people who enter into prenuptial agreements are interested in having their property treated a certain way in the event the marriage comes to an end. Agreements may state that certain items that belonged to one spouse before marriage will continue to belong to that spouse upon divorce, or pass to the spouse’s children at death. Many family homes and other heirlooms have been passed to the next generation in this manner. Prenuptial agreements can also include provisions regarding how assets accumulated during the marriage will be divided, and which of the spouses has the right to manage, control, encumber, or dispose of specific assets during the marriage.

Steps for Creating an Enforceable Contract

Drafting a prenuptial agreement must be done such that its validity cannot be successfully challenged in a subsequent divorce or other court proceeding. While this is true of any kind of contract, the emotional resentment that accompanies many divorces makes it all the more important in this context. The best way to avoid legal challenges is to make sure the terms of the agreement and the process of signing it are fair to both parties.

Specifically, the terms of the agreement must be conscionable. If one spouse stands to leave the marriage wealthy and the other spouse will become dependent on welfare, a judge will likely toss out the entire agreement. Prior to executing the document, each individual should have access to legal counsel (two lawyers must be hired), and there must be ample time to review the paperwork before the wedding. Most importantly, the two individuals must fully disclose the extent of their personal assets and income to one another.

Hiring a Prenuptial Agreement Lawyer

Even for couples who understand the benefits of a prenuptial agreement, discussing the topic can be awkward. If you and your future spouse are in need of assistance, an attorney specializing in matrimonial law can make the experience much more pleasant. Speak with a lawyer now to learn more.


Prenuptial Agreements and Estate Planning

Prenuptial agreements can affect your Estate Plan. If you have one or are considering entering into one, it's important to be aware of how it can influence how you plan for your estate. For an overview, visit Prenuptial Agreements in Estate Planning.

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Pre-nuptial Agreement Law - US

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