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Prenuptial agreements offer blended families a way of estate planning as well as protecting spouses in the event of a future divorce.

Anyone in Pennsylvania who has been prematurely widowed or divorced at least once knows that sometimes a marriage does not last as long as originally hoped or planned. Many people choose to get remarried and often question whether they need a prenuptial agreement for various reasons.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers noted in a 2016 survey that the prior three years had seen a jump in the number of prenups created.

Protection in the event of another divorce

The possibility of a divorce always exists and that can spell financial disaster for some. In addition to salvaging some assets, U.S. News and World Report notes that a prenup might even help protect one spouse from getting stuck with the other person’s debt.

Many people go into second or third marriages with children (or grandchildren) from previous relationships whom the parents or grandparents want to protect financially in case remarriage ends in divorce.

In divorce, separate property that belongs only to one spouse because he or she owned it prior to the marriage or received it as a gift or inheritance that continues to be held in that person’s name alone normally remains the property of that spouse, however, the increase in value becomes marital. This can be sheltered by a prenuptial agreement so that the increase in value can also be protected. Marital property, meaning assets accumulated during marriage by either spouse or by them jointly, is divided equitably or fairly in divorce unless a prenuptial agreement determines what assets are distributed and in what percentage. A prenuptial agreement also may be used to determine the level of spousal support or alimony or if there is a payment at all to the other spouse.

In a prenuptial agreement, the parent of a child from a prior relationship could negotiate that part of future marital property go to that child. For example, the parent might want to direct the marital part of his or her retirement accounts or part of the equity in other accounts or assets go to support or benefit the child, rather than becoming part of the marital property subject to division.

If the child has disabilities, the parent might want certain assets of the marriage to go into a special needs trust to protect the child’s future.

A prenuptial agreement entered into before the marriage can set forth the course of what will happen in a divorce and eliminate doubts on motives of the spouse.

Lifestyle provisions

Trying to include some lifestyle provisions might not be reasonable, such as how one spouse should wear their hair. Other matters may well be included in a marital contract. According to Time, use of social media is a topic often referenced in these documents nowadays to prevent one person from publicly humiliating or denigrating the other during or after a divorce.

A prenuptial agreement might also designate who will get the family’s pets if the couple divorces.

Estate planning assistance

Fidelity Investments explains that a prenuptial agreement can aid in a couple’s estate planning, especially when one or both spouses has children from prior marriages.

People may understandably want to take care of their spouses after they die. They also might want to make sure that their children or grandchildren from previous relationships receive certain assets or family heirlooms.

With no prenup directing assets to people outside the marriage, a spouse might automatically inherit certain assets when the other person dies even if there is a will in place as a spouse can elect to take against a will. The surviving spouse could live for quite some time longer in which case there may be little to nothing left of the estate to pass on to the deceased spouse’s children. The surviving spouse might also leave remaining assets to their biological children only and not the children of the spouse who died first. A prenuptial agreement can be used to waive that elective share and allow the will to control in the event of death.

Family businesses

Oftentimes there may be a family business that a spouse wishes to keep separate in the event of death or divorce. The spouse and his or her family may desire to keep the business intact and in the hands of family members or other owners or to avoid expensive and intrusive evaluations of their records. A prenuptial agreement can aid in easing the mind of other family members and creating a better family environment without the threats that may otherwise occur.

Otherwise, if the other spouse has an interest in the business in divorce or as an heir, the business might have to be sold or take on significant debt to pay the other spouse his or her share. In addition, if the business becomes embroiled in a court proceeding, the discovery process to determine its size, value and ownership can be expensive.

Legal assistance

Anyone contemplating remarriage should contact an experienced attorney prior to walking down the aisle for the second time. This will give him or her the insight of a professional to help make decisions about a prenuptial agreement. At a minimum, no potential spouse should sign a prenup before talking to a lawyer about its implications.

The family lawyers at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C, represent people approaching remarriage in Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including providing advice about, reviewing, drafting and negotiating prenuptial agreements. The are available for consultations by phone prior to coming in to the office to determine if you would benefit from a prenuptial agreement.

Gone are the days when prenuptial agreements are viewed as contracts on a marriage or a guarantee on divorce. While some religions and cultures still do frown upon them, they can be a great way to talk about finances and strengthen your marriage with clear expectations. If you have children from a previous relationship and significant assets to protect, a prenup can also make everyone feel more comfortable.

What is a prenup? A prenuptial agreement, also known as an antenuptial agreement here in PA is a formal agreement entered into before marriage in which the future spouses agree to provisions for equitable distribution of assets, debts and spousal support in case they divorce in the future or if they wish to provide for what happens to assets in the event of death by waiving a spousal election which is provided for in each state under the state law. In this document you can discuss current financial positions and how finances are going to be handled during the marriage, and whether you wish your will to control in the event of death.

The general purpose is for future spouses to think about and decide, prior to a marriage, their rights and duties concerning financial issues. These agreements can be especially helpful because putting one together forces the parties to discuss financial issues, a topic many of us avoid and is a common reason for divorces. If one or both parties have a substantial income, assets or debts these agreements may be a good option.

If one of you has significant assets or had to pay handsomely in a previous divorce, a prenuptial agreement can put one’s mind at ease that the less well-off party is not marrying for money.

In case a divorce does happen and if the agreement is valid, the issues agreed to in the contract are settled. Whatever issues not included in the agreement need to be worked out or failing that, litigated.

What makes a prenuptial agreement valid?
It is important to note that a prenuptial agreement’s validity is only determined when it comes into question in either a divorce or estate proceeding. This is why the writing of a prenuptial agreement must be done by an attorney who has significant experience in this area. There are a few general requirements to which make a prenuptial agreement valid:

· The agreement is in writing,

· Signed by both spouses, and notarized.

· Accompanied by a statement of assets for both parties and includes an estimated net worth as well as previous tax and salary information.

· The agreement cannot be the result of fraud or duress. It is a good idea to complete the prenuptial agreement and signing far before the wedding to rule out the appearance that it was forced on one party by the other.

· The parties understood and accepted the terms and conditions of the agreement, agreed to it voluntarily and had enough time to think about it prior to signing it. This includes the opportunity for both parties to consult with their own attorneys and make changes to or discuss points in the document.

· The agreement is fair and not “unconscionable,” which it may be even if what one spouse receives is small or disproportionate compared to what the other spouse receives, as long as one spouse is not left destitute.

Prenuptial agreements, like any contract, can be changed with the agreement by both parties.

A valid prenuptial agreement should shorten if not prevent disputes over financial issues if a marriage ends or a spouse dies, but issues they don’t cover are child custody and child support which can be especially contentious depending on the parties. If they can’t reach an agreement these issues would be decided in court, which can be a long, expensive and emotionally painful process.

Whether or not you signed a prenuptial agreement and your marriage is heading for a divorce, contact our office so we can talk about how mediation could bring an end to the disputes between you and your spouse, allowing you to start a new chapter in your life without the emotional and financial trauma that a divorce can inflict.