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What Is a Prenuptial Agreement?

When you're in the exciting process of planning a wedding and preparing for a life with your future spouse, the last thing you probably want to think about is the chance that your marriage will end. However, it's an important event to consider. From divorce to the death of one spouse, you should have a plan in place beforehand so you know what to do.

One of the best ways to protect your assets if your marriage dissolves is to sign a prenuptial agreement, or "prenup," prior to the wedding.

Why Use a Prenup?

A prenup, when done correctly, is a legally-binding contract between you and your spouse. These contracts help set up your financial rights during divorce proceedings, including whether or not one party will pay alimony, how you'll divide property and other assets, and can even affect your children's future inheritances. They can also protect you from your spouse's debts. For example, a common provision of prenups is that each person will get to keep the assets they had before the marriage after the marriage ends.

Should I Get a Prenup?

A common misconception about prenups is that they're only for very wealthy people, or people with a significant difference in their financial worth before the wedding. In actuality, anyone with independent property, finances, or children from a previous relationship should get a prenup. Prenups can also be important safety measures if you own a small business, whether you own it with or without your spouse.

Can We Decide Child Custody in a Prenup?

While there are many things prenup can decide in advance, most issues involving your children are not included. Prenups exist to protect financial assets, which your children are not. As such, you and your spouse can't commit to valid custody agreements through a prenuptial agreement.

Even some financial matters regarding your children aren't eligible for prenup inclusion. For example, agreements on future child support payments after a divorce will generally not be allowed or enforceable.

How Do I Get a Prenup?

The first step to getting a prenuptial agreement is talking to your fiance about your desire to get one. For some people, this can be a difficult or delicate conversation, as no one wants to imagine their life without their partner someday. However, the effects of a prenup can protect and benefit both parties and should not be discounted without serious consideration.

The prenup will be a written document that you've both signed. Each state differs on what is required to make the document valid and enforceable in court, so getting legal advice on a prenup is critical. The decisions and agreements you've made should be written out in clear, understandable, and factual terms. Vagueness or false information could nullify the prenup.

While it's possible in some states to create a prenup yourself, it's much more common, and advisable, to get professional assistance. In some jurisdictions, it's mandatory for each partner to have their own lawyer when creating a prenup. That's to ensure the agreement is as fair as possible for both of you.

Even the smallest mistakes in your contract could invalidate it. Using a local experienced estate planning attorney or family law lawyer could help you draft a more secure prenup that can better protect you, your spouse, and your families.