It used to be that only those with vast fortunes to protect considered a premarital agreement as part of their wedding plans. Now, however, it’s not just the Michael Jacksons and Lisa Presleys that are ironing out their financial obligations in the event of a divorce before they even take their marriage vows. Such steps may not be necessary for every couple, but in light of the ever-increasing divorce rate and more common second and third marriages, many couples readily welcome the suggestion of a premarital agreement.
For instance, couples entering their second marriage often execute an agreement to protect the interests of their children from a prior marriage. Young professional couples turn to premarital agreements as a way of protecting the rewards of their personal success. Those whose new marriage will force them to relocate, and thereby give up some financial security, are also finding the premarital agreement desirable. So, too, are those with established businesses. Even couples without assets are looking to premarital agreements as a way of avoiding a battle over what they do accumulate during the course of the marriage.
The scope of a premarital agreement can be as broad or as limited as the situation dictates or the parties desire. It can deal with just one asset or it can fix all of the parties’ rights arising out of the marital relationship.
For instance, upon divorce, Pennsylvania law provides that either spouse may request that their marital property be divided between them. Rather than leave such a decision to the court or even to a negotiation process between the divorcing couple’s attorneys, the parties themselves could agree prior to marriage on how their assets will be divided in the event of a divorce. Similarly, an agreement can fix their respective rights to alimony or support in the event of a divorce or separation. In both cases, the agreement avoids a protracted battle in the event the marriage sours.
For many couples entering a second marriage, especially those late in life, the motivation to enter into a premarital agreement is often the desire to protect the interests of their children from a previous marriage. For instance, consider a recent widow who intends to take a second husband. Her husband-to-be is financially secure. As such, she would rather see her children inherit her property. Without an agreement, the new husband would have certain rights to at least a portion of her property. With an agreement, however, she can ensure that her children will receive what she and her first husband worked so hard to accumulate. In such cases, both spouses often have the same desires and, therefore, readily accept such a proposal.
While once frowned upon by the courts, a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case reinforces the fact that premarital agreements will generally be enforced. To ensure that the agreement will be binding, the parties must make a full and fair disclosure of their financial worth. In addition, it’s desirable to have each party seek advice from their own attorney. Since an agreement signed today may not be fair in the future, the parties can agree to make adjustments based on such factors as the length of the marriage or a change in the relative earning capacities.
Divorce and financial matters are probably last on the list of things a couple wants to discuss as they plan their wedding. In the proper context, however, such a discussion can lead to a premarital agreement which both parties view as a precaution designed to prevent a nasty and expensive divorce settlement.