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Who's up for a prenup?

Forget romance and, for a moment, be realistic. Passion wanes, people change and divorce rates are on the rise. If you're thinking of getting married, congratulations, but if you're smart, you'll do it with a prenuptial agreement tucked firmly under your arm.

Before you balk and argue that your love will last forever, think of it this way: Just as no one gets behind the wheel of a car planning to get in an accident, no one gets married thinking they'll be one of the almost 50 percent of couples heading for divorce court. Still, drivers get insurance, and so should soul mates. Your love may well endure, but it never hurts to have a back-up plan.

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Douglas J. Green, of Heydary Hamilton in Toronto, specializes in family law and has seen enough client marriages fall apart to recognize that while prenups are not exactly romantic, they make life easier.

"It's a plan to get out of a partnership without killing yourself," he says, encouraging people to approach the topic with this in mind: "While we're still in love, how would I want you to be treated should something go wrong in our marriage?"

Prenuptial agreements, or marriage contracts as they're also known, are legally binding documents that help ensure that assets acquired prior to the marriage remain in the original owner's hands. They also outline terms for support obligations should the marriage end, stipulate division of property and, in some cases, direct the future education and upbringing of children excluding custody arrangements.

Basically, they can be as extensive or limited as the couple want them to be. Sometimes an agreement will cover every aspect of a couple's financial status, sometimes they're as simple as stipulating that if things disintegrate, partner B doesn't have any claim to partner A's family cottage.

Who needs a prenup?

While young people, with few financial assets, rarely need prenuptial agreements, fewer and fewer people are fresh-faced when walking down the aisle. These days, the average first-time bride is pushing 32, while grooms are 34, according to Statistics Canada. That's a whole lot more time to accumulate assets than just two decades ago when women were 25 and men 28.

You should consider a prenuptial agreement if:

  • One partner's assets (property, investments) are worth considerably more than the other's.
  • One or both have children from a previous marriage.
  • One partner owns his or her own business.
  • There's inherited property or jewellery that is meant to stay within the family.
  • There's a will or estate plan already drafted, as a marriage overrides a will.
  • One spouse earns significantly more or is set to earn more than the other.
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-- Posted: July 4, 2008
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