In 1920, the average woman would be married at 21 and men at 24. However, today’s national average has increased to slightly below 28 for women and almost 30 for men. Waiting until nearly 30 for marriage means that both partners may be coming into the marriage with a significant work history and their own assets and debts. Marrying very young usually means that both bride and groom are starting out with nothing and both working to build a life together. But family businesses and expected inheritances can put a damper on even the most innocent of unions. Enter the premarital or prenuptial (sometimes also called an antenuptial) agreement.

Premarital agreements are contracts made before marriage that specify how assets and debts will be handled in the event of divorce or the death of one spouse. These agreements are contracts between the two parties with the promise to marry, detailing what happens to their assets and debts brought into the marriage, the purchase or sale of property, what happens to their individual and marital property upon separation, dissolution, death, or any other event. They can also include language about modification or elimination of spousal maintenance, making of wills or trusts, choice of where to file the divorce or separation, and any other matter not prohibited by law. The parties cannot include in their contract agreements about child custody and they cannot predetermine child support. Even if these agreements were included in a premarital agreement, a court would later ignore them.

Premarital or prenuptial agreements are a good idea for people who enter marriage with assets that they may want to pass on to children of a prior marriage or may want to keep if the marriage ends. While premarital agreements have the unfortunate reputation of being ugly or only for the rich, prenuptial agreements are meant to clearly provide guidance and instruction to the parties during their marriage. They also avoid and eliminate what could be a very lengthy and expensive fight if the marriage ends, by clearly spelling out what each spouse is expected to retain and protect, and what will be divided from the marital assets.

If you are considering, contact an attorney to discuss if a prenuptial agreement can protect you and your family, and help create a marriage that gives you peace of mind.

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