One of the most common questions I receive from clients is how to bring up a prenuptial agreement with a future spouse. There is no uniform answer to this because every couple has its own dynamics, and a prenup conversation should reflect this. With that being said, there are some basic ideas to help your path to a prenup go more smoothly.
Consider the timing. When it comes to prenuptial agreements, the earlier the better! Whether or not to have a prenup and what should be in the prenup involves important and binding decisions. For that reason, it usually best to plan to have the discussion (especially the initial conversations) at a time when neither person is in a rush and when time can be devoted to the conversation.
Clarify your own goals. Why do you want to have a prenup? Be clear on your own objectives prior to discussing the agreement. Clarifying your own goals will help you to speak more clearly with your fiancé. It is often helpful to seek a consultation with an experienced attorney to help structure this conversation and to make sure all relevant points are considered as well as relevant law.
Try your best to plan how you will talk about the prenup. Planning the conversation can also be helpful. While it is hard to plan every detail of the dialogue, organizing your own thoughts beforehand may help you to address the topics that are most important to you.
Manage your emotional triggers. Discussing a legal agreement, regardless of the circumstances, is often a stressful time. Just as you may feel nervous discussing the prenup, your fiancé undoubtedly feels those same emotions. Be aware of your own reactions as you listen, and try to respond to concerns or questions in a constructive way. Monitor your tone during the discussion so as to not push too hard. If the tension is building, it is okay to take a break.
Be mindful of your fiancé and ask yourself, “Why would he/she want to sign a prenup?” While you may share some common ground on prenup issues, your fiancé may also have his or her own thoughts on the agreement. Try to put yourself in his or her shoes. Be flexible and think of these conversations as part of the bigger picture of how you and your fiancé will communicate about finances and other important issues during the marriage.
Share financial information. Before the actual prenup document can be discussed, your financial information should be addressed. Income, assets, debts and other relevant information can allow you to clarify what the prenup agreement will address for both you and your fiancé. This sets the stage for good communication during the marriage and helps to build trust with respect to the economic part of your relationship.
Present the topic before you present the document. I always advise clients to discuss the prenup with their fiancé before the agreement is drawn up. Talking to your fiancé about the agreement will promote a feeling of equality in the negotiation. The ability to work on a document in a cooperative way is usually appreciated much more than presented a document as a “done deal”. Remember: There are no magic words! The concept of a prenup may be entirely new for your fiancé (and even for yourself). It is through meaningful discussions that a durable agreement may ultimately be reached.
Avoid a “take it or leave it” approach. Clients sometimes come to me after their fiancé hands them a prenup in final form without prior discussion. This type of situation is difficult for the client psychologically because having an agreement drawn up without two-way input and discussion takes the other party completely out of the loop and is usually not taken well. Because a prenup is about you and your fiancé, both of you should be included in the entire process.
Adapt to the process. As you discuss the prenup with your fiancé, you may find that some points that were initially important for you are no longer as important. Keeping an open mind will allow you to adjust to the process.
Avoid unsolicited advice. While friends and family may have valuable input and advice, remember that the prenup is about you and your fiancé and no one understands your goals and priorities better than you and your fiancé.
Don’t get bogged down. When evaluating your own goals, you may find that you have certain “non-negotiables.” Because these points are important for you, you might feel the pressure to get your point across. It is okay to table an issue and come back to it at a different time. It may be helpful to ask your attorney for advice about how to discuss a specific issue, or even leave it for the attorneys to discuss.
These considerations are not exhaustive and represent a useful starting point for prenup discussions. Everything can (and should be) adapted to your own style and relationship. Starting the process is less about the prenup agreement and more about you, as a couple, talking about your relationship and your plans for the future.
This list is adapted from my book, Prenups and the Elephant in the Room: A Handbook for the Prenup Process. For more information on prenups, visit my website.