By Inna G. Materese | Esquire
When we hear the words “prenuptial agreement” or “prenup,” most of us think of wealth, celebrities, or even unreasonable demands we’ve seen in the movies. Prenuptial Agreements have had the misfortune of being seen as unromantic, fatalist, and unseemly. However, a prenuptial agreement – or a contract entered into before marriage that outlines the rights and obligations of both spouses in the event of divorce – can prove to be useful for individuals in a variety of financial circumstances.
Many clients wonder, “Why do I need to know about a prenuptial agreement now that I’m going through a divorce?” The answer is simple: A prenuptial agreement can help you reduce conflict in a future relationship and can serve as valuable financial planning tool.
You may be aware that Pennsylvania’s Divorce Code provides for a process, called equitable distribution, by which marital property is divided. In addition, our divorce and support laws provide for support remedies such as alimony pendente lite and alimony in the event of divorce. In the absence of a prenuptial agreement, these laws largely govern what happens to your finances in the event of divorce. Unsurprisingly, many of us are not too keen about how these laws are applied to our lives. A prenuptial agreement can help you predetermine how your financial circumstances will be resolved in the event of divorce.
A prenuptial agreement can assist you with:
- Financial Planning – A prenuptial agreement is a vehicle by which you and your future spouse can determine for yourselves what kind of property is and will remain separate, and what kind of property, if any, will be marital. It also permits the spouses to designate whether income earned during the marriage remains the separate property of the person who earned it, whether and to what extent retirement accounts may be marital, and who gets what in the event of divorce. By clearly establishing these understandings prior to the marriage, you may be able to better gauge what your financial picture may look like upon divorce.
- Estate Planning – A prenuptial agreement can be a critical estate planning tool, particularly if you have children from a previous relationship. Designating your spouse’s ability to inherit from your estate, and to what extent, can help you provide for your spouse, children from a previous relationship, and/or other family in your desired manner.
- Debt Allocation – In a divorce action, the court will distribute and divide marital debts in addition to marital property. Many clients are frustrated by the idea that they must assume a portion of marital debts that may have been incurred solely by the other spouse. A prenuptial agreement can be an effective way of shielding you from debts incurred by the other spouse during marriage.
- Support – Our support law provides for alimony during and after the pendency of a divorce, with factors and guidelines that often prescribe how income and support are calculated. A prenuptial agreement allows individuals the freedom to determine some of these support issues for themselves. However, it should be noted that issues of child support and child custody are not binding and are always modifiable.