A successful businesswoman who has lived in the Capital Region her whole life, Madeleine was overjoyed about walking down the aisle. After her first marriage fell apart when she was younger, she’d finally arrived at a place where she fully knew herself—and, she thought, the man she was about to promise to love forever.
That is, until two days before the ceremony, when her fiancé surprised her with a prenuptial agreement that would leave her with little more than rent money for a couple of years. “It wasn’t good, and we fought about it,” says Madeleine, who had shut down her business and put her career on the backburner for her soon-to-be husband. “All the power was his. I’d given up my whole life for him.”
She briefly considered calling the whole thing off. But then, even with so little time to spare, she hired a lawyer. “We changed things to make it more equitable,” she says.
Corrine, also a successful businesswoman, has a very different story. She married “for love,” she says, when she was 30. The marriage, in which she was by far the primary breadwinner, would end 15 years later—and her husband would take half of everything and then some. “It never crossed my mind to ask for or even consider a prenup, and I came to regret that,” she says. “That was a very expensive mistake for me.”
By now, most of you are probably familiar with the concept of a prenup, a contract a couple enters into prior to a marriage regarding assets. And yet, prenups remain the exception rather than the rule. That shouldn’t be the case, though, according to Teresa Donnellan, a divorce and family law attorney at Donnellan Law in Ballston Spa.
Donnellan says there are many misconceptions about prenups—mainly that they are for rich people. “When you get married, you are combining your financial responsibilities and obligations no matter how much money you have,” she explains. Others feel a prenup is a sign of a weak relationship. “That is just not the case,” she says. Another misunderstanding is that prenups are about only what happens in the event of a divorce. Donnellan stresses that they also provide guidance on “how to structure a marriage.” For example: Who’s going to be responsible for the bills? If one spouse buys a big-ticket item, who owns it? What if one of the parties comes into a large inheritance? Prenups can address such issues, says Donnellan, who also advises that each spouse has his or her own lawyer available for negotiations. “You have to look at it this way: marriage is binding and lasting, hopefully,” she says. “But marriage is also about compromise, and your financial picture and future are a compromise. Isn’t it better to have these conversations before you get married?”
Everyone enters into a marriage hoping for a happy ending, but with more than half of marriages these days ending in divorce, it would be folly not to prepare for the opposite. “We make preparations for all kinds of disasters—hailstorms, broken windows,” says Corrine. “It’s crazy to act as though when we get married there’s no chance that marriage will end. Statistically, that is ridiculous.”