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When to Get a Pre-Nup

Your lawyer will probably tell you to get a pre-nup, citing the data: 40% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. However, only 11% of people getting married think it will be them. Play the odds, not the emotions. Divorces with pre-nups are a lot less nasty than those without.  Get one! Even Suze Orman agrees.

Your counselor will probably tell you to stay far, far away from a pre-nup.  He or she will likely cite the same data as your lawyer, but say that starting your marriage with a pre-nup is a great way to make sure you are part of the 40% who eventually get divorced.

Marriage can be really hard and pre-nups say: “I love you, but I don’t really trust you. I love you, but I need a plan B in case it’s not always like this.” Social Theory professor and author Barry Schwarz in his book, The Paradox of Choice, cites research showing couples entering marriage with a pre-nup are more likely to get divorced than those who don’t.  Simply having this back-up plan in place, according to Schwarz, means one is more likely to choose it.

It plays into the [largely generational] thinking that there is always something or someone else better out there, and therefore leads to dissatisfaction with what we have, no matter how good it is. The pre-nup makes acting on that dysfunction a lot easier.

Your intellectual, philosophical, urban friend will ask you “why do we even get married at all?” And personally, I think this is a really important question to talk about.  It has the effect of discovery and clarification of what we really believe, understanding it at a core level, and then acting with consistency to those beliefs.  It’s not a discussion to be afraid of no matter where you fall philosophically or theologically.

So whom do you listen to? I think the answer is fairly easy.  The real issue isn’t the pre-nup, it’s your wedding vows.  Will your vows sound something like this?

I, ________, take thee ______, to be my wedded wife/husband, and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be thy loving and faithful wife/husband; in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.

If they do, then we say no pre-nup (with a few exceptions of course). For your vows to have integrity, for you to mean what you say when you say “as long as we both shall live,” a pre-nup is not necessary.  The few exceptions I see are when there are confounding factors that extend beyond the couple, like family businesses or children from previous marriages that need legal protection.

Now, if your vows do not look like the ones above, and if you and your partner are intending to formalize a relationship that looks a bit different, then pre-nups seem completely appropriate, and maybe even really important to the relationship.

So now we want to know... 

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