Nothing can throw a Kardashian-sized wet blanket over wedding bell bliss like talk of a prenuptial agreement.
But prenups have become increasingly common for couples looking to hash out sticky financial details before they walk down the aisle, says family law attorney Steve Mindel.
Based in California, Mindel’s seen his share of negotiations go sour, but he has practical advice for everyday consumers looking to protect themselves if their marriage takes a turn for the worst.
Many couples will undergo some sort of religious counseling before they tie the knot, Mindel points out.
'That's a good place to start the conversation, especially if the clergy are openminded about these things.' Plus, chances are low that anyone's going to start throwing blows in a religious institution.
'The No. 1 mistake people make is that the party making more money comes to the table and says, 'I want my stuff to be my stuff because I'm worth more,'' Mindel says.
'But if you discredit the hard work of the one who makes less money, that's not a good way to start off the negotiations of the prenup.' (See 8 tips for couples drafting a budget.)
There are typically five pillars to every prenup:
How to handle the income each partner makes before marriage, how to handle your prior assets (businesses, homes, etc), division of property acquired during the marriage, your retirement plans, and how you'll handle spousal support.
Don't get caught up in the whole 'What if we get divorced?' thing and focus on the separate elements to keep things professional, Mindel says.
Revising your estate plan should be at the top of your priorities every year, especially as you look ahead at growing a family.
That means it's easy enough to work a prenuptial agreement into the process.
This is especially true if either you or your future partner has children from a previous relationship. You'll want to be sure the little ones are fully covered in your partner's will and prenuptial agreement, Mindel says. (See 8 things every couple should consider before setting up a joint account.)
For younger couples fresh out of college, a discussion about student loan debt often can segue into talk of a prenup.
'Looking at debt is usually the way it starts, especially if one party has a lot of debt,' Mindel says.
Who wants to get stuck paying off their partner's $100,000 private medical school debt, anyway?
If you're not seeking religious counseling but you're both openminded about the idea of getting a prenup, Mindel suggests using a mediator who specialises in prenups to help hash out the legal details.
Usually, a mediator will write up the agreement before both parties take it to their attorney for review. (See 8 things to think about before setting up a joint bank account.)
No matter how you slice it, getting a prenup is an expensive process that can cost between $10K and $15K in legal fees.
'You could technically do a prenup without lawywers but its very complicated to do that,' Mindel adds.
Chances are that if neither party can afford to get a prenup, they probably don't earn enough income to justify having one anyway. Sites like LegalZoom.com and RocketLawyer.com both offer tools for prenups online.
It will take between three and four weeks to negotiate the terms of your prenup, so don't leave it until the last minute, Mindel says.
A good rule of thumb? Plan to have it all squared away before you send out the Save the Date notices to wedding guests.
If you're marrying a spouse with significantly less income and want a prenup, you can soften the blow by inviting him or her to visit with your estate planner afterward, Mindel suggests.
'That's one of the most successful strategies ... we go to the estate planner to make sure that if I die before you, you'll be well taken care of.'
'If we look at the prenup as some kind of domineering document that the advantaged spouse will have the disadvantaged spouse under their thumb, then it makes it very difficult to negotiate,' he says.
Think of it this way: Prenups are a way to customise the law to suit your needs, especially if your state is particularly unkind when it comes to spousal support.
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