I recently wrote a post about the divorce of Dave and Marge after 41 years of marriage. Dave is now back in a position where he wants to get married again…only this time to Tiffany, several years his junior. Now he’s curious about whether or not he should have a “Prenup” after his most recent experience going through his divorce. Should he “Prenup” or not? Tiffany isn’t excited about it…but there may be some middle ground that works for both.
We have been conditioned to react negatively to the mere word “Prenup”…why is it we give such a negative reaction? Allow me to share some insights from some relationship experts that might just change the way you think about it…one way or the other.
When couples work together to develop a prenup it can function as one of the most valuable steps a couple can take to strengthen their relationship as they plan for married life. How can that be?
Often times the insistence of having a prenup by the “partner with assets” or by their family necessarily can create confrontation and potentially a divide between the couple. Families with significant assets consider a prenup to be an important “risk management” tool for protecting their family’s financial interests.
But often times this can send a message to a future in-law that he or she is considered a risk to be managed rather than a new family member to be welcomed. This perception can be the divide between a couple…regardless of what the prenup says about the assets. Back to Dave…how can we help Dave create a prenup that provides the protection he and his family feel they need while also strengthening his relationship with Tiffany? Let’s explore this in greater detail and see how this can be a win-win for the couple and their families.
When someone has financial assets disproportionate to those of the other, the typical anxieties involved in entering a marriage are greatly magnified. As we told Dave in our meeting, the goal is to help him maintain awareness of the relational risks while exploring the ways he can proactively reduce these risks. This becomes both financial and emotional “risk management.”
Marriage counselors often advise that a marriage has the best chance of flourishing when partners can create balance in their relationship on a number of distinct levels…each of which comes under stress when partners enter a marriage with unequal financial resources.
According to some counseling experts, as reported by Keith Michaelson, Don Opatrny and Mark Haranzo in a recent article published on WealthManagement.com, the three areas most at risk of imbalance for wealthy couples are Boundaries, Power, and Giving and Receiving. Here’s what these authors had to say about these areas which might shed some light on this ever perplexing question about prenups…
Everyone is hardwired to develop powerful attachments to their families of origin. As a new marriage begins, the balance of loyalty needs to shift. A family business (or other jointly held financial assets) can increase the pull of loyalty ties. The result may be a deep sense of responsibility, dependency, or even rebellion that influences personal decision-making. These feelings may be further exaggerated when one of the partners discovers for the first time the extent of his or her family’s wealth during the prenuptial process.
Split loyalties may keep one partner feeling on the outside of decisions, even after marriage. A wife may prioritize time with the business rather than with her husband. Or a husband may insist that holidays be celebrated with his extended family. The process of creating a prenup together can help the couple focus on making their new relationship primary. Joint decision-making authority that supports the marital bond can be woven into the fabric of a prenup in ways that protect the couple’s future as well as the heirloom assets.
Unequal access to financial resources can create an implicit hierarchy in a new marriage. Without appropriate awareness, there can be lifelong implications as to whether the partners can hold equal status and decision-making authority. A couple may be acting from the belief that money makes you a more worthy or more “successful” person or they may believe that money is to be viewed with suspicion or with a guilty conscience. Without consciously exploring power dynamics in the relationship, patterns develop where the partner with assets is either elevated to the dominant position or conversely, relegated to a subordinate position as a way of unconsciously creating balance.
Options can be considered for managing the financial imbalance by explicitly giving control over certain decisions to each spouse or by accruing funds over time in an account in the name of the spouse with fewer personal assets. Couples can thoughtfully create structures and processes for the financial empowerment of both spouses with appropriate safeguards against irresponsible behavior built in.
- Giving and Receiving
There can be danger in only one partner having access to assets that support the couple’s lifestyle. Even when done with love, giving inherently creates an imbalance and provokes a feeling of indebtedness. The giver can come to feel entitled and deserving of a free pass on relationship problems. This sentiment can be supported by the thought that she or he alone has made possible the privileges enjoyed by the family, overvaluing financial support while undervaluing other contributions.
A receiver can get stuck in guilty feelings and defer around important family decisions, even while their resentment over the imbalance of power continues to mount. Recognizing this issue, the couple can build into the prenup provisions for creating access to financial resources in a way that mitigates the relationship risks associated with financial “gifts” in a marriage.
How to Write a “Relationship-Focused” Prenup
The process of creating a prenup that supports the development of the marital bond has significant implications for both lawyers and their clients.
Since we are representing Dave, the monied partner, we would usually see our role as protecting the financial interests of Dave and his children. But as we discussed with Dave, we also want to help him to create something that supports the needs and desires of Tiffany. He agreed…if financial risk management is the only priority, seeds of future conflict could be planted and can grow wild over the years, potentially causing him to face another divorce for the wrong reasons.
Unfortunately, attorneys can only represent one side of the equation so we have to represent Dave since he is our client. However, Tiffany should also retain her own legal counsel for independence in the situation and discussion. Separate counsel is important to ensure that the agreement will be legally binding. It doesn’t prevent us from working together…which is strongly preferred in reaching common ground that is positive and acceptable to both parties.
This constructive thinking and teamwork can create a prenup that is both protective and relationship strengthening at the same time. I will discuss more on how to actually develop this kind of agreement in some later posts.