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So, You Were Just Asked For a Prenup...

You’ve fallen in love and you’re ready to walk down the aisle. You’re fantasizing about your future together when your partner pops the other question: Will you sign here? Manhattan psychotherapist Paula Angelone and divorce attorney Hal Mayerson tell you what to do.

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Don’t respond right away.
If you’re like most romantics, you’ll shudder at the mere mention of a prenup. “The immediate sense is often one of betrayal, hurt, and abandonment,” says Angelone, who nevertheless cautions against refusing out of hand. “Saying ‘absolutely not’ without even considering it is a childish response,” she says. “A more mature reaction would involve first understanding what’s being proposed.” What’s the rationale? Does it seem reasonable? If you need time to cool down, ask to schedule a conversation within a day or two, Angelone advises.

See it as a possible opportunity.
If you can get through prenup negotiations, you and your partner will be well-positioned to handle other conflicts in your marriage, Angelone says. If the request throws your relationship into turmoil, she adds, you may have more than finances to settle. “If you can’t discuss the possibility of a prenup, the important thing is to figure out why not,” says Angelone. “It can be a chance to address and resolve important issues of trust, money, and communication.”

The prenupster pays.
Mayerson says the partner proposing the prenup usually pays the legal bills for both sides. An attorney will charge between $5,000 and $15,000, with better firms charging $7,500 and up for three-to-five attorney-client meetings plus negotiations. Another option is hiring a mediator ($1,500 to $2,500 in total) to help the two of you draft a version of the prenup together, for review by your respective lawyers. Without an attorney’s sign-off, a prenup is more vulnerable to challenge later.

Protect yourself.
Mayerson says the more vulnerable partner is often too quick to sign away his or her claims. In New York, if you didn’t sign a prenup, you might expect to claim 50 percent of all money earned during the marriage as well as half of the appreciation of your spouse’s previously held assets, such as stock and real estate. Negotiate accordingly. For most wives, the most important asset to protect is “the marital home,” Mayerson says. Fight to have it categorized as joint property; if your fiancé won’t budge, have your prenup establish your right to live there until your children are out of the house. Also, be wary about signing away your claim to “spousal maintenance,” the new legalese for alimony. If you plan to take time off to raise children, you’re sacrificing your long-term earning potential. Make sure the prenup compensates.

Build in an expiration date.
If your partner is adamant about signing a stringent prenup, build in “sunset provisions” that stagger the terms over time, or nullify the contract after a certain number of years. “Maybe you do a draconian prenuptial, but you kill it after children are born or after a set period of time,” Mayerson advises. “You both have to be fair.”


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