By: Rebecca Amster Cantor, Esq. M.S.
“Never talk in mixed company about religion, sex, or money.” My mother reminded me of this rule of social etiquette before any social gathering I might have attended throughout my adolescent years. This rule persisted as I began dating. Why would I ever want a potential partner to think of me as rude, particularly when I had a romantic interest in that person? Talking about money is just about the least romantic thing one could do on a date.
But as one moves from first date to proposal, one wonders when does it ever become appropriate to discuss religion, sex, or money? The truth is it’s probably appropriate to begin discussing these issues, albeit in a broad manner, from the very first cup of coffee, whether in person or on Zoom.
What holds us back from these important conversations is fear of the unknown. Particularly as it relates to money issues, the truth is that if neither you nor your partner has ever entered into a pre-nuptial agreement before, then you both don’t know what a pre-nuptial agreement covers and what it doesn’t.
A little history lesson, then: Throughout the centuries and in early American colonial life, marriage was viewed not at all as a romantic liaison, but as very much a transactional one. The purpose of marriage was to propagate a family line, to perpetuate wealth, and each member of the marriage was looking to secure his or her own financial futures. Almost always, other members of the couple’s family was involved in negotiating the marriage, with the fathers of daughters making sure that their child’s financial well-being was secure before agreeing to literally “give their daughters away.”
Fast forward to today, and the couple intending to get married no longer has the safety net of their own family looking out for them. Romantic notions of falling in love, and the naivete of believing that things “will always work out” does the couple more harm than good, because neither one of them has learned how to talk out the tough issues that they will invariably face in the years to come.
So how and when do you bring up the question of a pre-nup with your partner? The best advice is to begin discussing issues of finances early on in your relationship. If there is a disparity of wealth between you and your partner, then I recommend you notice it and talk about expectations regarding finances as your relationship deepens and develops. Depending on one’s culture, upbringing, and life experiences, people will have very different ideas about how to manage finances; how to spend and how to save. Don’t be surprised if you and your partner have vastly different ideas about how to handle money; see the fact of your differing viewpoints as a strength in your relationship and allow yourselves to discuss finances in an open and honest way.
When you and your partner decide that you want to get married, Congratulations! That’s exciting and wonderful news! But it’s also time to decide to develop better communication tools and strategies for when times get tough in your marriage. Frankly, entering into pre-nuptial negotiations is a great way to do just that. You may want to each consider speaking separately, or together, with a family law attorney who can guide you and advise you as to the law around pre-nups, and what sorts of contact terms are valid and enforceable, and which terms are not. You may also want to hearken back to early American Colonial times, and speak with your family about what their expectations are regarding wealth, preservation of their own estate, and third-party perspective on how to negotiate in your own financial best interest.
The best step towards working with your partner in crafting a pre-nuptial agreement is to recognize that the document you are working on is one you are co-creating, one that looks out for each of you, one that protects you both should the unthinkable occur and you need to divorce. Your pre-nuptial agreement is an extension of what you’ve been doing all along in your romantic relationship: Your pre-nuptial agreement is how you will look out for each other, even after the glitter of your romance has worn off.
And isn’t that the most romantic thing of all?