Why I’m Getting a Prenup—and You Should Too

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Amanda ChatelIn our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman who fell hopelessly in love—for the very first time—tells us why she’s still choosing to get a prenup before she walks down the aisle.

I was sitting in a café in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris when I met Olivier. He was a few tables away from my friend and I, and had been laughing at my friend’s attempt to pick up the waiter with her broken French. I had been doing my best to translate between the two, and convey their mutual interest, but I was failing miserably. Olivier’s laughter made me realize he understood both French and English, so I suggested he come to our end of the café and take over playing matchmaker. So he did.

While my friend and the waiter wandered off together, Olivier and I struck up a conversation and hit it off. He was sweet and charming, and his accent won me over immediately. We dated through the spring, and when I went back to New York City we were determined to make it work. In July I returned to Paris to see the man I had fallen in love with a couple months before, and we picked up where we left off. After a few weeks together in France, he proposed and I accepted. Like any newly engaged bride-to-be, I was ecstatic, on cloud nine, and all the rest of the mushy emotions that go with it.

How My Prenup Came to Be

Once the initial euphoria passed, it was time to think about logistics. Being citizens of different countries, our first decision to tackle was where we were going to live. As a New Yorker, I wasn’t about to give up the city I loved, even if it was for Paris, and Olivier, being a born-and-bred Parisian, wasn’t exactly stoked about moving to the United States. We figured, after little debate, that I’d move to Paris for six months to a year first, then he’d move to NYC for the same amount of time. 

Luckily, I was a freelance writer and he was a musician, so a little country-hopping was possible. After that, we’d make some serious decisions as to where we’d settle to start our family.

Once that was out of the way, I went back to planning my wedding and being in love, truly in love, for the first time in my life. I figured the rest would fall into place.

Then one night, while out with the ladies, a friend leaned into me and asked, “You’re getting a prenup, right?” Before I could answer, she continued, “You have to get a prenup.”

RELATED: To Prenup or Not?

  • Elaine

    I think this is a great article for people about to be married, and I applaud your decision to stick to your guns about the pre-nup. But I am a little baffled here – if you’re so concerned about the future, in terms of leaving with a daughter, division of assets, etc., why haven’t you invested a little time and perhaps money into wading through French divorce law? If you’re willing to go to the expense of having a pre-nup drawn up, and you’re willing to country-hop on alternate years, isn’t it worth a small investment to thoroughly research this aspect of your potential future? I feel like it’s your ‘elephant in the corner’, in terms of something you want to look at, but maybe not too closely.

  • AmandaBK

    I agree that prenups are a great idea, although I think some of the information might be incorrect in this article. All of the research I’ve done on prenups say that you cannot use them to outline things like future child support, or really, anything regarding future children, and that attempting to do so can (in some places at least) invalidate the entire contract. I know I’ve also read that people who include things like how often the trash is taken out, etc, can end up having their prenups declared invalid by a judge if the judge thinks that the things agreed upon in the contract are unreasonable.

    • sallysue1

      I think it may depend on the state you live in. I know in Kentucky, for example, child custody can’t be in a prenup but maybe it’s different for other states. Throwing another country into the mix complicates things further. But you’re right you can’t just put anything you want into a prenup it depends on the laws where you are.

      • terrilynnmerritts

        Another consideration is that if they had a child born in France, that child would be a French citizen and the US courts could not enforce anything.

      • AMK

        As an attorney, I don’t know a single state that allows child support payments in a prenuptial agreement because it is impossible to validly determine this amount before you ever have children. Maybe there is a rogue state out there which allows it, but the majority of states will declare that provision invalid.

  • ATLShutterbug

    I believe everyone should have a prenup. Think of it like an insurance policy – you hope your house doesn’t burn down, but if it does you are protected. Relationships are emotional, and when they fall apart logic can go out the window. Having a document already negotiated can help both parties through a very difficult time.

    • sam_the_cat

      I agree. I wouldn’t undertake any sort of joint venture involving money without a contract that clearly delineates how things should be handled should the parties wish to dissolve the partnership. Obviously, you hope that a divorce will never happen, but it’s much better to figure out all this stuff now while you’re both feeling charitable towards each other than to fight over it later.

  • guest

    I think pre-nups have extensive value for people coming to a marriage with assets (inheritances, property, etc), or people getting married a second time with children from the first marriage. I don’t really see the point for people coming to a marriage with no assets to protect. As you acquire assets or inheritances, you can create legal documents for inheritance and ownership and change them when needed. Pre-nups can also be nullified or challenged at the time of divorce and might not be valid in the country or state you are divorcing in. As another commenter mentioned, a pre-nup will not necessarily get your child out of a country after divorce (it might not even get your child out of the state within the U.S.), so expecting that it will could be problematic.

    • erica o

      Thanks for your response, that’s my question. What is she protecting? She mentioned she has an inheritance, but I don’t get what else she is truly protecting.

    • GG

      What you’re describing is basically a post-nup. Legal documents can (and should) be amended or added over time as your lives and assets change. As a couple you should determine if you set up a game plan pre- or post wedding. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a general outline before you get married (pre-nup) and making changes to it afterwards. Whatever makes the couple who’s creating it feel secure.

  • Liz

    “I knew no lawyer would tell me a prenup is a bad idea.”

    Actually, that’s wrong, because I am a lawyer and I don’t think they’re so hot. Here’s why: I believe that once you open that escape hatch, the word “divorce” is a part of your vocabulary and becomes an option you’ll have in the back of your mind when the going gets tough. If you’re going to make this commitment, you ought to jump in with both feet. With eyes wide open, yes, and fully informed about your future spouse and how you’ll deal with kids, religion, and money – but also with the full commitment and intention to be married till death do you part.

    I specialize in family law (i.e. divorce and custody) and most of the prenups I draft aren’t even “necessary.” For instance, in my state inheritances are sole and separate property, so you don’t need a prenup to state that because it’s already the law. It’s always smart (and, indeed, vital) to know the laws and what you need to do to protect yourself. But having a document that you think will protect you “if love dies” is, in my view, practically a self-fulfilling prophecy. The butterflies lessen over time – I’m always shocked at how many people divorce because they don’t feel the same about their spouse as they did while dating. Well, of course not! I’d rather people invested more time and thought into building a stable foundation for a marriage instead of drafting legal documents they think will protect them if they decide to throw in the towel.

    (And the previous commenter is correct that you can’t add provisions regarding children. France is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, though, if you’re worried about that. If it’s not too bold to say, I’m more concerned that you’re worried about it in the first place. To me prenups signify doubt. And that’s not the hopeless romantic in me talking – it’s the lawyer!)

    • erica o

      Thanks for providing this insight.

    • GG

      If there was evidence to support that theory I would agree, but most experts concur that pre-nups have no predictable impact on a marriage resulting in divorce. Anyone witnessing how dirty some divorces can be will tell you that it is much better to set terms when you like each other rather than negotiate when you despise each other. And I’m not talking ridiculous requests like weight clauses. I’m talking about the things that actually matter and people fight over – like division of assets – should things go south. No one gets married thinking it will end in divorce, but the truth is there is a 50/50 chance it will. If your personal frame of mind makes you feel like a pre-nup is a “get out of jail free” card, then you shouldn’t be getting married. I think most responsible adults look at is as a type of insurance. Something you hope you’ll never need, but have just in case.

      • terrilynnmerritts

        However, a divorce court judge can (and many do) toss out provisions of pre-nups, especially when children are involved.

        • GG

          A good lawyer will know what provisions you can and can’t include in a pre-nup based on where you live. If you can’t include clauses about children, especially ones that aren’t born yet, then that should be disclosed. I also stated above that I don’t think frivolous things should be included like weight clauses and who completes house chores. I think that’s taking it a little too far and if you’re including things like that, might not be taking marriage as seriously as you should. However, when it comes to money, property, future earnings (what if she writes a best-selling book. Will she have to give him palimony based on royalties?) those things are very important to speak about and come to an agreement on. And that kind of agreement is only valid (and able to be verified) in writing.

    • Kiley

      Thank you for your point of view – I’m glad there’s a lawyer who’s honest about the pre-nup as it often seems like a business these days.

      However I do think that people see marriage as a romantic ideal and not as what they are – a contract between 2 individuals. Pre-nups help clarify expectations between the individuals before they marry and if a disagreement comes up, maybe they should reconsider marriage! In this case, doubt is a good thing.

      In my personal experience both my parents are divorced (twice!) and could have benefited greatly from a post/pre-nup agreement both times. This is because they went for quickie divorces and failed to properly work out the financial details, leading to nasty arguments about money and the kids decades on. It’s this messiness, and the fact that I’m living overseas with foreign assets, that makes me more determined to get a pre-nup should I marry. Better prepared than sorry.

  • Sarah

    I agree with her mom. Why get married at all? If you’re so worried about the challenges that will rise down the road. Of course there will be challenges in all you do in life. I think signing a prenup is like you are already planning an exit strategy for marriage. Marriage is about commitment. If you are so fearful, I’d hold off on getting married.

    • rubymer

      They wouldn’t be able to stay in either country long together without getting married.

  • terrilynnmerritts

    Personally, I believe that if you feel the need to plan your divorce and what you can grab and protect before you are married, you don’t need to get married. You are the kind who WILL be getting divorced in the future, have no faith in your relationship, and are entering marriage with the expectation that if anything comes up, you’ll run away. I can see her fiance thinks this way too. She’s already plotting how to get put of France with a kid she hasn’t even conceived yet! Those who get pre-nups are “me” people and not “we” people. It is about them and what they want. Imagine writing in demands that you’ll have sex a certain number of times a week (not make love, lovemaking is based on love not pre-planning in a pre-nup) or someone will cook for you a certain number of dinners per week.This would be a huge red flag for me and I would not marry someone like that. Fortunately, my husband and I have no pre-nup, consider everything we earn or get as “ours”, and have been married for years with the knowledge that no matter what, we will not divorce. We have undergone some serious problems together and helped each other through. That is what marriage is. People who need pre-nups need to forget marriage and just shack up.

  • DivorceInfoNOW

    Although it is often
    uncomfortable to discuss wanting to have a pre-nup with your fiance, as Amanda
    mentions in the article, it is a really good idea to have one. Today, many women
    bring valuable financial and physical assets to their marriage.Many of our clients going through divorce wish they had had the courage to protect their assets with a pre-nup, but at the time of their engagement felt really nervous that they would be sending their future spouse the wrong message.

    The law in equitable distribution states
    very specifically takes into account issues such as the amount and source of
    income, future possibilities for inheritances as well as future possibilities
    for income and assets. Those factors will determine both the distribution of
    assets & liabilities, the question of alimony as well as who pays child
    support, in what amount and in what proportion.That doesn’t mean that the inheritances
    and/or the property an individual brings to the marriage will be divided, but it
    DOES mean that those assets will be considered as part of the marital financial
    picture.
    A pre-nup would be the determining factor in how the assets and
    liabilities are divided, where and with whom the children live, and who pays for
    their education and health insurance, to mention just a few of the innumerable
    considerations at play. The issue of the couple coming from two different
    countries muddies the water even more and complicates the potential
    “uncoupling”.

  • Jeff Landers

    In the United States (prenups, like other laws governing marriage and divorce are governed by individual states and may vary widely from state to state), prenups cannot include any provisions concerning child custody and/or support. As some of the other comments indicate, the inclusion of those child related provisions might invalidate the entire prenup. In addition, by living in France for a year or more, you may lose your residency in NY and any divorce may be covered by French law which may or may not recognize your prenup. Having a child born in France may also impact your rights concerning custody. I agree with some of the other commentators that you should also consult with some French attorneys who specialize in these matters.

  • GK

    I hope Olivier and you are loving man and woman, and have a lasting, happy and prosperous marriage, but your clause is not fair, despite your notions about betrayal

    no greater, but equally as great a betrayal as adultery is the sex-denial in marriage. It doesn’t sound like betrayal, but it is because it is part of keeping each other loved and secure. It seems like sex is being made a big deal, when everyone knows love is not sex. The absence or reduction of sex however is an indicator that something is going bad in the relationship. One might feel that mutual lust is going down, but what is happening is egos and acts are being committed so that a low intesituintensity aversion is created having sex is not a natural thought .

    Just like sometimes how a woman has a inviolability of her honor to not submit to marital-rape. A man somehow has to do something with his virility to prevent himself from going crazy.

    Olivier has signed away his rights in romanticism or with masochist tendencies. The right things for Olivier to so in case the marriage becomes sexually dysfunctional is to ask for divorce. In some sense cheating is a mistake of a weaker mind whether it be by woman or by man. Frailty is that a human condition. People do make mistakes, it seems like if in an event a spouse does cheat, you now have to weight the power of forgiveness and healing versus the Euro-500,000, essentially you have biased yourself not to forgive, even if you have feelings for , you will also perceive a fallen Olivier’s attempts to reconciliation or amends as cheap attempts to avoid a 500,000 fine. You could also hire a siren and and plot over a period of time, or a salary of euro-400,000 dollars, entrap Olivier like a spy-sex net and profit form euro-400,000, which happens between diplomats of countries. A pro-bono lawyer will also find more motivation in trying to help you win any case. Basically, you have created a conflict of interest in all parties concerned, undermining the institution of love.

    Consider some alternatives:

    [1] Even if you word the contract to say Olivier should give euro-500,000 to UNICEF child welfare fund as remediation to continue the marriage, thereby pretending to fore-go financial benefits from cheating, even there you have reduced the combined pot assets by euro-500000, it is like choosing to remain married and incurring a joint-self-punishment of 500,000, in some sense the money creates a bias towards divorce.
    [2] If you word the prenup to say, Oliver will be divorced and should donate euro-500,000 to UNICEF, somehow that becomes a person-right violation in which you are causing damage after divorce.

    Regardless of your notions of betrayal. Your only action is to do your best so that cheating does not happen. the pre-nup has already allowed you more slack for your responsibility to keep. Any assertion you make in comments or writing is basically indistinguishable from show, you might say we’re having great sex life. But Olivier is in a catch-22 situation. If he tells the truth the situation worsens, If he allows the lie its a gone marriage anyway.

    I had this discussion of marriage, love and divorce with someone, and some discussion is arising that now that both man and woman can work, the notion of alimony(man to woman and woman to man) is obsolete. One viewpoint is that no-one should ask for anything, because both parties when they leave the marriage when it breaks can at-least say for the time they were married they had love and union, look back and thank each other. Right now, if you take that euro-500,000 it would make you a leech.

    Even if you say, I am honorable i wont do all this, it is the same
    frailty of the human condition in which you will do the deplorable.

    If I think you had honor, I think you should tear that pre-nup, because it is equating years of love with one carnal acts of sex. Both of you would most likely not be virgins and have no reason to expect each other to be and so sex is just a recreational activity that is tied to one mental and psychological sense of sexual security which is a small part of a larger notion of intimacy and love.

    pre-nups are usually the work of materialists putting a price on love. Without a financial-union and sexual-contentment there is no marriage. Its not right for earning man or earning woman to think income is his/her alone.

    You have not assessed true cruelty. Cheating, adultery is nothing compared to passive aggressiveness and unaffectionate indifference.

    One valid ground of pre-nup is when there is gender asymmetry in the law of the land, which arises because of history and social situations. Two rational fair-minded individuals make a pre-nup, which asserts laws mutually applicable or specified waive away unfairness and asymmetries.

    I beleive sarah and terrilynnmerritts below has said as I am saying, the marriage contract as on paper is set up with failure in mind, why bother with marriage and even hold a man to Monogamy.

    It may work for you because Oliver and you are awesom folks and perhaps very relationship aware, and think a lot through, but most people don’t think and act on instinct. There is as much unfairness in this pre-nup as contracting someone to work below minimum wage.

    When one member in marriage is caught cheating. If the members want to remain married the right thing to do is to get a relationship counsellor who will have sermons for both.

  • GK

    What the lawyers below are seem right. Prenups if law were to recognize them should only provide mechanism for asset division. not revenge/inflict damage on real or perceived emotional distress, or to make one person or the other sign away their rights to his/her child. If push comes to shove then they you and or Ex have to share the the childhood of the child for equal years in US and France.

    your pre-nup is flawed and sub human rights, and I believe it should not be legally recognized. Even a man drafting similar prenup and getting a wife to sign it is wrong.

    you said you believed in free speech, I am disappointed my previous post had disappeared. I had some pretty well articulated constructs around why the 500-000 euros alters everyone’s motives. that you’ve biased yourself to divorce in all cases presented.