Green advises raising the prospect of a prenup at least six months before the wedding date. Waiting too long can send the signal that you’re trying to force someone to sign. And legally, a prenup drafted and signed within 30 days of the wedding is vulnerable to challenge on the grounds it was made under coercion. Some lawyers won’t begin the process less than 90 days before.
Rehearse your pitch.
Pick the right place and time—in private but not during an intimate encounter—and make sure your prenup request doesn’t come off like a unilateral decree. The worst move you can make is handing your intended a predrafted agreement. Green suggests you say something along these lines: “I’d like to sit down and talk to you because my lawyer has advised me and I think we should have a prenuptial agreement. I would like for us to have a chance to communicate and set down our expectations about finances—what parts of our financial assets we will share and what we will keep separate. What are your expectations? I want to plan this with you because I hope that will be the spirit of our marriage.” Be prepared to field questions like “Don’t you trust me?” and “Are you questioning the marriage?” Respond by being reassuring rather than dismissive or defensive.
Get a mediator.
Ten-year veteran June Jacobson advises entering into early negotiations with a shared mediator ($1,500 to $2,500 for two to four sessions) rather than two attorneys. “Mediation emphasizes joint decision-making,” she says. Once an agreement is drafted, each partner should have it reviewed by his or her own lawyer.
Pick your battles.
Chemtob advises clients to identify the assets they most want to protect and tag any nonnegotiables. Consider protecting big-ticket items including boats, vacation properties and family businesses. (One client stipulated in his prenup that he would keep any Andy Warhols purchased before or after the wedding.) Think about the future: Under New York state law, Chemtob explains, a spouse can claim a percentage of your educational degree, professional licenses, and partnerships, which forensic accountants would assign a financial value based on your age and earning potential. If you’ve got a Wharton M.B.A., for instance, it could be valued at a career total of $620,000 to more than $2 million, and you could end up paying a whopping settlement at the age of 35—even though you haven’t made most of your fortune yet. A prenup can stipulate how much of those earnings your spouse is entitled to.
If you are unwavering in your demands, you may wind up sabotaging the partnership. “The goal,” Chemtob says, “is to protect your past and future assets, to protect against the unknown—and still get married.”