|Everything you need to know about
The first step in the prenup process should be to
sit down with your sweetie and reach an agreement about what, in
general, you want the contract to say. "Draw up your list of
assets and talk about it before you hire the lawyers," suggests
Zwack. "You won't know the specific laws, but have a concept
Doing that can save you money. Fees for prenups depend
on how long they take to draft. Hourly wages for attorneys can go
from $300 to $500 an hour on the East and West coasts. In the Midwest,
you might be able to get away with $100 to $125 an hour. Ask your
attorney at the first meeting what the anticipated charges will
Next, hire separate attorneys. To help ensure an enforceable
agreement, both parties need their own lawyers. Many a prenup has
been thrown out because an aggrieved spouse did not have legal representation.
The attorneys co-write the agreement with their clients' best interests
Signs of a valid
Perhaps the most important ingredient of a solid prenuptial agreement
is honesty. Both parties must FULLY disclose their assets. If it
turns out either person has hidden something, a judge can toss out
An ironclad agreement also must be signed well in
advance of the wedding. You can't present your honey with a prenup
two days before the big day and say, "Uh, by the way, I need
your signature on this."
The document should be signed as early before the
nuptials as possible to avoid the appearance of coercion, another
key reason why some agreements are rendered null and void.
"I recommend at least one month before the wedding
and preferably before the invitations have been sent out,"
says Dunnan. "Then you both have time to back out if you're
uncomfortable with the terms. If the discussion revealed such deep
and basic differences between two people that they decide not to
marry, it's obviously best if all the talks took place well in advance
You don't want to have to send back presents!"
A valid prenup also is "fair" and will not
leave one of the parties destitute. "No matter what state you're
in, the state will look for equity to make sure one spouse is not
being taken advantage of," says Zwack.
Prenups can include responsibilities that don't deal
with money, but you should avoid making demands that might seem
frivolous, such as requiring that your spouse not gain weight, or
that he or she quit smoking and take out the garbage three times
a week. A judge could look askance upon terms that are less serious
than, say, stipulating what religion your children will observe
if you and your betrothed are of different faiths.
"It's dangerous to do that, and you're flirting
with having the whole thing set aside," warns Zwack.
Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope,
but if you want that prenup to have legal force, it's best to do
things a little more formally.