Many people living throughout the Midwestern United States hold misconceptions about prenuptial contracts and their intended purpose. In fact, some may even believe that a prenuptial contract is only a contingency plan when someone has little faith that a marriage will last. However, the true purpose of a prenuptial contract is to make each marrying spouse’s rights and responsibilities clear before the marriage begins in earnest.
Creating a prenuptial contract can often help a couple improve their communication prior to marrying. It is true that the process of developing a prenuptial contract can be uncomfortable in some ways. However, many couples who undergo this process find that it helps them have challenging conversations early in their marriage, allowing them to begin their marriage on more secure footing.
If you and your spouse-to-be plan to take advantage of the benefits a prenuptial contract could offer to your marriage, it is important to understand the concept of legal enforceability. With this information in hand, you can be sure your prenuptial agreement will accomplish its intended purposes.
How Does a Prenuptial Contract Work?
Prenuptial agreements exist to provide a marrying couple the opportunity to establish their financial rights and responsibilities in advance. These contracts are particularly valuable to couples who control substantial wealth or have financial commitments to children and spouses from previous marriages. Individuals with a job that requires an extensive amount of travel and affords minimal time to spend at home could also benefit.
The main purpose of a prenuptial contract is to establish each person’s property ownership rights. For example, if both spouses own separate homes and control separate assets prior to marrying, their prenuptial contract can stipulate that they retain these separate property ownership rights throughout their marriage. Their contract may also outline each of their responsibilities during the marriage, such as which spouse assumes responsibility for which bills and debts. Prenuptial agreements also protect marrying spouses from the other’s debts, establishing rules for handling debts in the event the marriage does not last.
It is also possible to configure postnuptial agreement clauses into a prenuptial contract. This section of the agreement functions as a roadmap for the couple’s divorce should they decide to end their marriage in the future. Depending on where the married couple resides, their prenuptial contract can streamline their divorce proceedings significantly. A contract allows both to avoid a great deal of time and expense they would otherwise spend on divorce litigation or even alternative dispute resolution.
What Can Make a Prenuptial Agreement Unenforceable?
A prenuptial agreement is a contract, and there are certain criteria the agreement must meet for it to be legally enforceable. First and foremost, the prenuptial agreement must be a written contract. Verbal agreements will not hold up in divorce proceedings. Additionally, there can be no coercion, duress, or threats made to compel either of the signing parties to sign the contract. The parties signing the prenuptial contract must both be legal adults of sound mind. Each must have access to their own legal counsel prior to signing the contract.
Both parties must also provide complete and accurate information when they draft their prenuptial agreement. If either party later discovers that their spouse engaged in fraud during the creation of their prenuptial agreement, the contract is legally unenforceable. For example, if one spouse intentionally fails to disclose pertinent financial information, the agreement cannot be enforced. Finally, a prenuptial agreement cannot provide any form of incentive to divorce, nor may it contain any unconscionable or illegal terms.
“Unconscionableness,” the state of being unreasonable or excessive, can be a difficult legal term. In fact, it is possible for a prenuptial agreement to be conscionable at the time of drafting and then gradually become unconscionable at the time of enforcement. This typically occurs when a marriage lasts a long time and the financial disparity between the spouses widens due to their individual careers and incomes.
What Do I Do If I Believe My Prenup Is Unenforceable?
Couples who develop prenuptial agreements prior to marrying must remember to revisit these documents every few years with the help of their respective attorneys. If you or your spouse recently experienced any type of major change that alters the terms of your existing prenuptial agreement, it is possible that this change may have rendered your prenuptial contract unenforceable.
It is also vital to consider the conditions under which you signed the prenuptial agreement if you are concerned about its enforceability. For example, unenforceability may apply if you discover that your spouse failed to disclose materially significant financial information during the drafting of your prenuptial contract. Their incomplete disclosure likely rendered your prenuptial contract unenforceable.
If you are unsure whether your existing prenuptial contract is still enforceable, consult your Midwest family law attorney and request a thorough review. Provide your attorney with any documentation pertaining to the recent changes in question. If they determine that your prenuptial agreement is unenforceable for any reason, you may take many actions, including nullifying the contract outright.
Can I Edit My Prenuptial Contract?
If both spouses agree to change their prenuptial contract, it is possible to edit your prenuptial agreement at any time during your marriage. In fact, it is quite common for married couples with prenuptial contracts to revisit and revise their agreements over time as their lives change. It is possible to add new clauses to your existing prenuptial contract, as well. However, in some cases, it may be more appropriate to sign a separate contract that acts as an addendum to your existing prenup, modifying the terms of the original agreement.
A well-crafted prenuptial contract can provide you and your spouse peace of mind before you begin your marriage. In addition, the contract can allow you to establish healthy communication early in your marriage and streamline the divorce process should you ever decide to end your marriage. However, you and your spouse must understand how enforceability works and commit to ensuring your prenuptial contract remains enforceable throughout your marriage. If you have concerns about an existing prenuptial contract or would like to establish a new contract, reach out to an experienced Midwest family law attorney as soon as possible.