Pre-Nups: Maybe Necessary, Necessary, Offensive, or Harmless?

by Stacey Lastoe

A prenup is:

a) Only necessary if one of the parties is a money-grubbing wench/weasel.
b) Imperative, considering the insanely high divorce rate. You’d be an idiot not to demand one.
c) Totally and completely offensive. If your beloved asks you to sign one, you’re better off running for the hills.
d) Nothing to be scared of.

According to Jodi Krieger, a partner at Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen, P.C., who specializes in family wealth planning and has been on both sides of the prenuptial agreement — that is to say the moneyed side and the non-moneyed side — the answer is, of course, the last one, d) Nothing to be scared of. And yet, the very words prenuptial agreement produce a staggering amount of controversy among young couples in love, especially when one party has assets and the other has none.

Krieger understands how and why couples entering into marriage are freaked out by the prenup, a once semi-old-fashioned idea that has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years as couples are getting married later in life after having built up substantial savings. (Those that come from families with money are also ripe for a prenup.) It’s at this time, pre-marriage, before emotions are at an all-time high — as they are in divorce — that a couple is most suited to make these essential arrangements.

Advising couples to thoughtfully consider the agreement well in advance of their wedding date, Krieger says this is the best time to tackle the prenup. That’s when “things are fair. Nobody’s trying to take advantage of anyone at this point.” It’s just “two people at a point in their life where they truly love each other and can think clearly as opposed to being in the throes of a divorce.” Krieger says this with a logic and clarity that makes me wonder why I was so freaked out last year when my partner told me he wouldn’t get married without one.

The rash, over-protective part of me had actually wanted to break up with him on the spot. “Wait, you’re serious? You’d seriously need me to sign a prenup, or you wouldn’t marry me?” I asked, shocked and hurt and also feeling a little bit betrayed and more than a lot blindsided. If he thought I was only after his money — and honestly if it was money I was after, I’d have gone and found myself a nice investment banker, not some ambitious guy with a start-up — then maybe we weren’t meant to be together at all.

Sure, it was true that he made a lot more money than I did and probably ever would, so long as his business continued flourishing and I remained a struggling writer, but what about all of the non-monetary ways I contributed and would continue to contribute to our partnership? I cooked dinner; he paid for it. While that had always seemed like a fair arrangement for both of us in the past, I grew paranoid wondering if he thought I was somehow taking advantage of him and his wallet.

Since we’d started seeing each other, my partner had always been generous with his money as far as I was concerned. I don’t mean that he ever handed me his credit card and said “Hey, baby, knock yourself out at Bloomingdale’s,” but he was not at all stingy, picking up the tab at 75 percent of our meals out, upgrading me to first class beside him when we flew, letting me borrow the car (which he often called “ours”) and never asking me for gas or toll money. Now, I wondered if all of his giving and my taking weren’t being thrown back in my face with this introduction of a prenup.

Prenup agreements, if they do nothing else, stir great emotions and throw all sensibility and logic out the window. I viewed my partner’s resolute insistence that we don’t marry without a prenup as a referendum on the strength of our union. I thought it threatened the foundation of our relationship. So what you’re saying, I wanted to know, is that our love for each other means nothing?

Of course that was being overly dramatic, a stance I often took to when playing defense. But that is the point: it made me defensive. I had to try and separate my intense emotional state from the practicality of the issue. My partner’s level-headedness on the subject didn’t change the way he felt about me.

Although we both came from parents with intact marriages — his more than mine, given my father’s dalliances over the years — we knew all about the high divorce rate, the challenges of monogamy, the simple fact that sometimes people change and fall out of love. It’s not that we thought any of this was going to happen to us, but we also weren’t a googly-eyed couple who believed we were invincible to life’s hardships.

When my partner said was that he didn’t want me to leave him and try to take his “cookies,” he wasn’t trying to hurt me. He was simply trying to protect himself and the livelihood he’d worked so hard to build. As long as we were together, which is what we both wanted, I could share his wealth, his “cookies” as it were. (Even in our most serious and uncomfortable of discussions, he found a way to soften the blow with a cute choice of words.)

I slowly started to feel more at ease. I still didn’t want to entertain the idea of us not working out, but who does? It’s an ugly scenario when we’re deeply in love and fully committed. When you have a best friend in your partner, as I do, you can’t imagine that ever going away. Of course, that’s why there’s more emotion than pure logic that goes into thinking about prenups, because of the unavoidable assumption: we’re getting divorced, which is what Krieger admits is running through her clients’ heads. Yet, it’s her belief that discussing what’s fair now, before you wind up in a place of heartache that you never ever expected to be, is the far better option for both parties. It’s hard to argue with that good sense.

At the end of our conversation, Krieger pressed me for some more specifics on my situation. I shyly explained that a prenup was on the horizon, and she laughed and said, “Good luck. Don’t be afraid of them.” I wasn’t. I told my sweetie just last week that I’d have no problem signing one. I meant it, too.

Stacey Gawronski is an editor at Refinery29, and her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, New York Family, Yahoo Shine!, xojane, and more.