Unlike divorce itself, Prenuptial agreements (prenups) have not made the transition from a state of taboo to one of acceptance and widespread practice. Prenups are still viewed by society from an emotional, rather than a practical, perspective. But, given the direction that society is heading, this needs to change.
When I asked one or my friends whether she would consider signing a prenup, her immediate response was “No, why would I marry someone that expected a divorce?”, this was followed later in the conversation with “why would I want to marry someone who didn’t trust me to be a decent person?”. These answers are indicative of society’s emotionally based perceptions of Prenups. For many, the mere request for a prenup is a sign that one of the partners is mistrusting, a cheat, or not completely involved or certain of the relationship. They are widely viewed as something only rich people do to stave off gold diggers, or a sign that one of the partners expects the relationship to fail. Some even view a prenup as a sign that the relationship definitely will fail, as if it a curse.
But this is the wrong way to look at it. We live in a world where divorces are increasingly prevalent. Thanks to the introduction of no fault divorces and child support systems, widespread and dewy-eyed belief in “true love”, and the increasing secularization of society, all of us now know atleast one person who has been divorced. I would venture to say that most of us would have close family or friends that have been divorced, let alone those who have personally experienced it. What’s more, marriages break up for many reasons, and not always because one person is at fault. Sometimes both partners are to blame, sometimes the reason could not be helped, and sometimes people just fall out of love. Marriage is no longer a “sacred institution”, and those of us whose marriages do last a lifetime truly are lucky indeed.
Prenups should be viewed in a similar vein to insurance. People do not purchase car insurance because they want or expect to have an accident. People do not purchase medical insurance because they want or expect to get ill. People purchase insurance because crystal balls and fortune tellers are bullshit and no one can predict the future. People buy insurance to protect themselves just in case something horrible and unforeseen should happen. It is not an emotional issue, it is a practical issue. Similarly, Prenups should be viewed as an insurance policy against something horrible and unforeseen happening that causes the end of a relationship.
When a relationship ends, the situation is generally highly emotional, often with one or more of the partners feeling hurt or wronged. This is exactly the wrong time to work out the division of assets, child support, visitation, custody of pets, whatever. These issues should instead be worked out either before the marriage (prenup) or during the marriage (postnup), when there is the ability to work out matters amicably. These matters should be worked out while there is still trust and affection, when both parties are feeling generous and willing to play fair, rather than when people feel hurt and vindictive. Furthermore, you don’t need to be rich to have assets or interests that need protecting. Prenups can concern anything that needs to be divided or sorted out post relationship.
Some may argue that the needs addressed by a prenup will change as children are born and grow up, fortunes are won and lost, and other aspects of life come and go. This is a valid point. Others will challenge the efficacy of Prenups as they are often challenged and overturned, merely held as guidelines by some courts, and in many countries are completely invalid. This is also a valid point. Furthermore, as my friend pointed out to me, a prenup will not turn a nasty breakup into an amicable split. However, what a prenup does do is give guidelines both for the courts as well as the respective parties. It gives a view into how generous the couples can be before hurt feelings entered the fray. It gives a glimpse of what a fair settlement could be. It can spur on those who may be downtrodden to fight for their rightful share of whatever is on offer. And in some cases, when the split is amicable, it will negate the need to fight over the remnants at all. Could there be a better system? Sure, but right now a prenup is better than nothing.
I understand some people will never be comfortable with Prenups. For them it will forever be an emotive issue, forever linked to rich people and gold diggers, or the idea of an axe hanging over the relationship. But, even my highly religious mother, who has been divorced, has stated that she regrets not having had a prenup. Despite her belief in marriage being sacred and forever, something went wrong, the relationship ended, and she was not protected. This can happen to anyone. And, if the trend of increasing divorce rates continues, more protection or insurance is required. In the future we will have to broach this subject with less emotion and more practicality. In the future we need to get real about Prenups.