On television the other day a financial adviser urged - desperately urged - her viewers to consult a lawyer and draw up a "pre-nup" before they ever considered getting married. Marriage is about money, after all, she declared, and the best time to make provisions for your future divorce is sooner, when you're still in love with each other, not later, when you're "at each others' throats". She concluded by saying that there's nothing unromantic about wanting to "protect" the interests of the person you love - while you're still love them.
This brought up an interesting point. Many people are in a bit of a quandary when it comes to pre-nups. Most agree that it's unromantic and implies that you expect your marriage to end some day...but on the other hand, divorce is extremely common and you wouldn't want to lose everything you've ever worked for because your relationship soured. So what do you do? Should you be practical and insist on a pre-nup, risking the wrath of your future spouse? Or do you take a chance that this marriage will work and everything will be fine? Ultimately, the choice is up to each individual but I believe there are some points to consider before phoning the lawyers.
First, you must consider that most people will balk at the suggestion of a pre-nup, not because they had designs on your money but because the mere hint of it shows that you don't have much faith in the relationship. There's no getting around this issue, there's no delicate way to broach the subject, there's no loving or romantic way to say 'I love you now, but I don't trust you as far as I can throw you and when we get divorced I want to make sure you don't get one red cent of what's mine." There just isn't any way to make this sound good. Either you go into marriage with good faith and hope for the future, or don't bother. Unless both of you are the sole heirs of wealthy industrialists and are accustomed to protecting your finances, be aware that the average person will be insulted by this suggestion, and will have their confidence in their choice of mate shaken.
Secondly, it bears mentioning that in many cases, pre-nuptial agreements can be challenged successfully in court, especially if children are involved. Child support is also automatic, and has nothing to do with the marriage contract, so if you think you'll get away scot free, think again. Courts routinely look favorably on "abandoned wives", and in a society where some jurisdictions (like New York) can order alimony even twenty years after a final divorce in which the wife asked for nothing...a little piece of paper is not much security.
But by far the most important thing to consider when debating the merits of a pre-nuptial agreement is this: how rational do you intend to remain throughout your life? How true to your own principles are you? Are you the kind of person to be driven by emotion or can you maintain a clear focus on what is just?
For a rational person, even the thought of a messy divorce wouldn't sway them towards vindictiveness or spite. A rational person who was in love with his or her spouse would accept that maybe, someday, their marriage might end but it doesn't mean acrimony and vengeance have to play any part. Just because you don't love someone anymore doesn't mean you have to go for the proverbial jugular. Someone who lived their life honestly and rationally, who believed in working to support themselves and who refused to take or pilfer or extort or outright steal from someone else would not suddenly abandon these principles and try to "take" a spouse or force him or her to pay support after the divorce. Revenge fantasies or the tumult of negative emotions should have no place in the heart or mind of a rational person.
Rational people should be able to assess their situation in life and make a determination about things like support if and when the time comes. For example, if you marry a man who inherited $10 million from his grandfather, you must be rational enough to understand that this is his money, not yours. If he shares it with you while you're married, then he must love you very much. If you get divorced, however, what makes you think you're entitled to any of it, simply because you were married to him? If, on the other hand, your surgeon wife and you had an agreement that she would bring home the paycheck and you would care for the children at home, then when divorcing it would reasonable for your wife to provide you with some support money until you can get back to supporting yourself. If you and your husband built a business together over thirty years, of course the assets should be divided equally, and if you have children, both of you should want to make sure your kids have all the resources they need, from both of you. Every situation is different, but if you apply objective, honest analysis to your situation you'll come up with an answer - and you won't need a pre-nup to do it.
This is what you should be concerning yourself with before the wedding - how dignified will I remain if we happen to split up one day? How rational and true to my principles will I remain even in spite of the pain and upset of divorce? And more importantly, how rational is my spouse? Can I trust that he or she will have the same attitude in the event of our separation? If you feel that you can't trust your spouse to be rational if a divorce occurs, then you ought to carefully consider whether marriage to this person is the right thing for you. If you suspect that you should protect yourself "just in case" then you obviously don't have much faith in your spouse, and that's not someone you should be marrying.
Forget worrying about your money, worry about whether you and your spouse have the maturity to develop a sound philosophy for yourself and live by it, come what may.