If marriage is a business relationship, a prenuptial agreement is like the incorporation documents. But what happens if during your marriage you find out the prenuptial agreement you paid for fails? For one woman, the results of a prenup fail could mean the loss of her entire inheritance.
Protecting Your Assets
After you and your spouse get married, ‘what’s theirs is yours, and what’s yours is now theirs.’ Unless you get a prenup. A prenuptial agreement is a written document between prospective spouses thinking about marriage. A prenup becomes effective upon marriage.
What can you put in a prenup? There are few limitations, but you can agree on your rights to any property either you or your spouse have or will have, who can manage and control the property, and what happens to property in the event of death or divorce. You can also agree to alimony, or to waive alimony, and many other issues that do not violate some public policy or criminal law.
There are two things she advises before getting married: (1) buy separate comforters for your bed, and (2) get a prenuptial agreement that fully protects you – even if you don’t think your assets are worth much. Without a prenup, you might learn you’re not be protected the hard way.
In the article, the reporter got married right out of graduate school and had no job. Her assets consisted of a used car, a cat, and an inheritance she kept in a trust fund. Her future husband had no assets, but was planning to go to dental school which had a hefty price tag. The Wife’s prenup ensured that her trust fund could not be used to pay for his graduate school tuition.
Notwithstanding her prenup though, during the marriage, the wife used her trust fund monies on their living expenses. Then she decided to ignore the prenup entirely. She used all of her premarital inheritance as a down payment on a marital home. Then she titled the house in both names. Then she also agreed her husband’s salary would pay the mortgage and most other bills related to “their” home.
Florida Prenuptial Agreements
I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements are not just for the rich and famous. Anyone who brings assets, or a large inheritance, into their marriage can benefit from a prenuptial agreement.
Prenups are important to have in place before a married couple starts investing in businesses, properties, and other investments.
But there can be ‘prenup fails’ too. In addition to being completely ignored, prenups can also be challenged in court. Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges, and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable. For example, Florida adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act.
The UPAA is a statute that requires that all premarital agreements be in writing and signed by both parties. It is enforceable without consideration other than the marriage itself.
Couples wanting to sign a prenup can enter into an agreement with respect to their rights and obligations in any of their property. Whenever and wherever property was acquired or where it is located; couples can control their right to buy, sell, use, transfer, or otherwise manage and control their property if they separate, divorce, or die.
When ruling on the validity of a prenup, Florida courts must consider things such as fraud, duress, coercion, in addition to the unfairness of the agreement, and whether there was any financial disclosure. While prenuptial agreements may be challenged in court, we will have to wait and see if the court will invalidate Costner’s prenuptial agreement.
A Messed-up Prenup?
After seven years, the husband informed his wife that he wanted a divorce. He also wanted to sell their jointly owned house and split the profits equally. Without a house though, the wife couldn’t qualify for a mortgage on a new home, and all of her premarital inheritance money was now tied up in a marital home she had to split with her soon to be ex.
When the wife contacted her lawyer to enforce her prenuptial agreement, and get back the deposit she alone paid for in their joint home, she learned the hard way her prenup would not help her. Why? Because she’d spent her inheritance on a marital home titled in both of their names. Her prenup only protected her trust fund money from being spent on paying off her husband’s student loans.
The couple came to an agreement, which was fleshed out over the next few weeks by their lawyers. They sold the house, and the wife got enough money from the sale of her marital home to pay for rent – with the help of alimony.
She was officially divorced by the end of the year, but she found out the hard way her prenup failed to protect her because she ignored it. The wife could have protected her inheritance in several ways: not putting the home in joint names, or amending her prenuptial agreement to decide how her down payment would be treated in a divorce.
Instead, she learned a few lessons. Her advice now is: “Get a prenup.”
The Business Insider article is here.