“If you ain’t no punk, holla we want prenup, WE WANT PRENUP, yeah! It’s something that you need to have ‘cause she leaves yo’ ass, she gon' leave with half.” -American Philosopher Kanye Yeezy West
When I was in college, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. The book starts off with Gilbert deciding at age 31 that she wanted a divorce from her first husband, whom she had been married to for six years. She realized when she turned 30 that she didn’t want to have children, she didn’t want to stop traveling around the world as a journalist, and she just plain didn’t want to be married anymore.
Gilbert assumed the divorce would go smoothly. She was wrong. Below is a passage from her book Eat, Pray, Love, which discusses her divorce process:
“It was my most sincere belief when I left my husband that we could settle our practical affairs in a few hours with a calculator, some common sense and a bit of goodwill toward the person we’d once loved. My initial suggestion was that we sell the house and divide all the assets fifty-fifty; it never occurred to me we’d proceed in any other way. He didn’t find this suggestion fair.
A year and a half after I’d left, my husband was finally ready to discuss terms of a settlement. Yes, he wanted cash and the house and the lease on the Manhattan apartment—everything I’d been offering the whole while. But he was also asking for things I’d never even considered (a stake in the royalties of books I’d written during the marriage, a cut of possible future movie rights to my work, a share of my retirement accounts, etc.) and here I had to voice my protest at last.
Months of negotiations ensued between our lawyers, a compromise of sorts inched its way toward the table and it was starting to look like my husband might actually accept a modified deal. It would cost me dearly, but a fight in the courts would be infinitely more expensive and time-consuming, not to mention soul-corroding. If he signed the agreement, all I had to do was pay and walk away. Which would be fine with me at this point. Our relationship now thoroughly ruined, with even civility destroyed between us, all I wanted anymore was the door.”
I was thoroughly confused by what I had just read. Why was this well-educated, able-bodied, healthy, vibrant man in his early 30s demanding so much money from her? They don’t have any children together. They weren’t even married for that long. Can he really ask for all that?
Yes, dear reader. Yes, he can. Just because they were married and had no prenup.
My post below will focus on prenups and why it is so important to consider getting one if you plan to get married. This post is not meant to be judgmental in any way but instead, to educate and inform.
Before we begin, please read the following disclaimers:
Now that we’ve gotten the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get started.
What is a prenup? A prenuptial agreement is an agreement made by a couple before they marry concerning the ownership of their respective assets should the marriage fail. Without a prenup, the court will separate all of the marital property according to the laws of the state.
I personally live in California, which is a community property state. This means that any marital property would be owned by my spouse and I equally. I own 50%. He owns 50%. This marital property includes earnings, all property bought with those earnings, and all debts accrued during the marriage. Some people are okay with this. Some people are not. I personally am not. I would want more control over this process on deciding who gets what, which is why I will most definitely get a prenup if I ever get married.
Some people say writing a prenup is like prenegotiating a divorce. I say it is one of the smartest things anyone can do. There is a lot of advice on how to make money, how to save money, and how to invest money. But there doesn’t appear to be much advice on how to PROTECT your money, especially in the case of divorce.
No one gets married with the intent of getting a divorce (most people, anyway), but given how much people change over time and the high rates of divorce, it makes sense that this is something you should at least consider and educate yourself on.
You see, when I get into my car every day and drive through Los Angeles traffic to get to work, I don’t PLAN on plowing my car into another car. I’m a super careful driver. Both hands are always on the wheel, 10 and 2. I don’t text. I don’t take selfies. I don’t apply mascara with one hand and drink coffee with the other while operating the wheel with my knee.
But you know what? Someone else might plow into me! And that’s why I have car insurance.
So you see, no one PLANS to get divorced when they get married but you know what? My partner may decide one day that he no longer wants to be married to me. I have no say in his decision. Hopefully I won’t be totally blindsided. But I sure as hell will be glad that we had a prenup.
Family law is expansive and somewhat different in every state (e.g. living in a community property state vs a common law state) but here are some important rules to keep in mind:
Everything I just said above might sound abstract. Let’s now go through some numbers. Let me give you some examples of people who didn’t have prenups and what happened to them financially after a divorce:
Jack and Diane got married ten years ago at age 30. At that point in time, Diane had $50K spread out among a 401K, a ROTH IRA, and an individual brokerage account. Jack and Diane are now 40 years old and just went through a divorce in Seattle, Washington, a community property state. When they split, Diane’s account balance had increased to $350K from a combination of her individual contributions and market growth.
To her surprise, Jack asks for $150K, half of the $300K growth that accumulated throughout your marriage. At no point during their marriage did he contribute any money to her accounts. But he is legally entitled to that $150K, because they were married and any money Diane earned is considered community property.
Kelso and Jackie are in their mid-50s. They met in business school 25 years earlier. They have three teenage children. After the second child was born, they both decided that it would probably be a good idea for Jackie to stay at home to raise the children. Kelso works really hard for the next few decades. There’s no way he can quit. They’ve got a mortgage, a stay at home spouse, three kids, and a dog. Kelso works pretty crazy hours at his consulting job. He’s gone from home Monday - Thursday. When he’s at home, he’s so tired he can barely see straight.
Jackie asks for a divorce. They’ve grown apart. 25 years is a long time. Jackie keeps the house where the three children live full-time. Kelso move into a one-bedroom apartment downtown. Jackie gets $10K a month in alimony and child support. She gets half of all Kelso’s investment and retirement accounts. Kelso is still on the hook for the mortgage, college funds for the kids, the housekeeper, the vet bills, anything that costs money, really.
Those two examples I just shared are two real people that I know. I’m not making any of this up. And yes, both of them are not too happy with how everything went down financially.
As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of this post isn’t to be negative about marriage. I just want you to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into and take the proper steps to protect yourself financially.
Having said all that, here are some personal tips to keep in mind:
Good luck, and may the Force be with you always.
Other educational resources:
It’s Over Easy - https://www.itsovereasy.com/insights
Nolo - https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/family-law-divorce
LegalZoom - https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/family-legal-matters
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.