Legal benefits of prenups
Joseph P. Zwack, an Iowa lawyer and author
of a best-selling handbook Premarital Agreements: When, Why and
How to Write Them, encourages couples with prenups to review
them every few years. After 10 years of marriage, for example, you
might want to consider giving your spouse more than the original
prenup provided for. "Prenuptial agreements are written defensively,"
he said, "so after a certain number of years, it's good to
be more generous."
Difficult as it may be to talk about money before
marriage, doing so can save heartache and hassles in the long run.
A prenup can minimize the financial and emotional toll of a divorce.
Couples without one will have their assets distributed for them
by the state if the marriage ends and they disagree about who should
Without a prenup, assets could end up in the hands
of your spouse's children from a previous marriage instead of your
own kids, or they could go to a slothful mate who did nothing while
you toiled away at a business or book that eventually became a big
"If you don't want a divorce court to make the
final decision about how your assets will be divided, a prenuptial
can protect you," says Nancy Dunnan, a New York City financial
adviser and author. "Without a prenup you're letting your financial
future be determined by a third party."
If you live in one of the nation's nine community
property states -- Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada,
New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin -- the law says property
accumulated during the marriage will be divided equally.
In all other "equitable distribution states,"
assets are divvied according to what the court deems fair. The judge
would take into consideration things such as the length of the marriage,
whether there are children, and the couple's age, health, job skills
and other factors. Alaska is a special case -- it's an equitable
distribution state, but it has a law that allows people to voluntarily
enter into a community property agreement.
Zwack says premarital agreements are a personal decision,
but without one couples relinquish not only power over their assets
but privacy as well.
"[The courts] shouldn't have to step in and interfere
with a husband and wife's private financial affairs," he says.
--Posted: June 15, 1999