February…the month of love. It got me thinking about marriage. So I hopped onto Urban Dictionary* to see how others define it. Among the traditional definitions, I found a few gems. One said marriage is “the number one cause of divorce.” Another one states marriage is “the most successful wealth transfer scheme ever invented.” Funny ha-ha or funny sad? Maybe a little bit of both.

With this in mind, is there any way to prepare and plan before your “I do’s”? One option to investigate is using a prenuptial agreement. A prenup is a legal contract that is entered into prior to marriage. It allows a couple to alter their spousal rights under state law in the event of divorce or death. If you’re already married, a postnuptial agreement can be used to do this.

To many this sounds kind of harsh and not very romantic. So who should consider a prenup? Some of the common reasons include:

  • It’s your second marriage and you want to protect the interests of your children;
  • You have specific personal or business assets which need to be protected;
  • There is a large disparity in the amount of debt being brought into the marriage;
  • One party is responsible for support obligations;
  • You’ve been through a contentious divorce and want to set expectations in advance; or
  • You plan to quit your job in order to raise your family.

In Minnesota, in order for the agreement to be valid, it must be in writing with full disclosure of the parties’ earnings and assets. This way both parties can make informed decisions about the spousal rights they may give up. Interestingly, state law only requires that each party be given the opportunity to consult with his or her own legal counsel, but it is always advisable for each party to have his or her own attorney. Otherwise you run the risk of an unenforceable contract, especially if the agreement seems unfair to one party given the circumstances.

Entering into a prenuptial agreement does not mean the couple is expecting a future divorce. What it can signify is that both parties want to foster upfront and honest communication and plan in advance to prevent surprises in the future. The key to a successful prenup is discussing the topic sooner rather than later. The agreement should be entered into well in advance of the wedding date.

*Warning: some definitions found on Urban Dictionary are colorful and far from politically correct. The author does not intend to endorse any of the definitions by referencing them.