News of Kelsey Grammer’s $50 million payout to his former wife Camille certainly grabbed headlines. Grammer reportedly did not have a prenuptial agreement that could have saved him a great deal of money before settling the divorce. Conversely, Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise settled their divorce by following a prenuptial agreement that conditioned how much money would be paid should the couple split. These celebrity divorces (and many others like them) continue to spark the debate over whether couples should consider prenuptial agreements.
At their core, prenuptial agreements are written contracts that couples use to avoid disputes regarding property ownership and division of marital assets in the event of a divorce. As unromantic as a prenups can be, more people are using them (or at least considering them) before saying “I do”. A Harris Interactive poll indicated that 44 percent of singles and 49 percent of divorced people believe that they would have a prenup in their next marriage.
You don’t have to be rich celebrity in order to enter a prenup. In fact, they are commonly used by middle income couples entering a second marriage. Before broaching the topic with your fiancée, there are a number of things to consider.
Don’t wait to talk about a prenup – It is helpful to talk about a prenup far in advance of the wedding. Not only will you get a good read on how your fiancée feels, it also allows you to think critically about what you want. Prenups offered right before weddings are in bad taste, and they are viewed critically by courts (primarily because they are more likely to be signed under duress).
Keep emotions out of the discussion – Indeed, planning for marital collapse is un-romantic and may sow seeds of doubt in the relationship. After all, many view marriage as a commitment that should survive any calamities. Talk of what to do if the relationship ends can make people uncomfortable. Also, most people don’t think objectively when in the bliss of falling in love. Having an objective view of your prenup is helpful in keeping emotions out of the discussion.
Be reasonable – The goal of a prenuptial agreement is to set reasonable expectations for dissolving the marriage. It should not be used to crush your spouse for indiscretions (even if you may want to), or control their behavior. With that said, penalty clauses should be avoided. (e.g. if you cheat, you owe $1 million.) Also, a court can set aside any part of a prenup it finds to be unfair or not in the interest of justice. So getting objective feedback will help you manage expectations.
Know the limitations – While you may agree on financial and property division issues through a prenup, you cannot include specific child support or custody designations. Only family courts may make final determinations on these issues. The court must follow statutory guidelines in calculating child support and make specific findings to resolve custody disputes.
The preceding is not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions about prenuptial agreements in Connecticut, an experienced family law attorney can help.