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What I’ve Learned as a Prenup Lawyer

 

“I have one of the most interesting jobs imaginable as a Prenup Lawyer in Colorado.  Every day is different. Every family and individual I meet is unique. I enjoy the heck out of my clients and watching their lives unfold.  I am an attorney and I help people with their families – from prenuptial agreements, to estate planning, to divorces, to estate administration (death).  I have watched my clients’ kids grow up and then I have had the pleasure of working for them. I have been there for clients’ new jobs, new marriages, and new children.

One of the first things people often tell me when they come to my office – right before they are about to disclose something very few people know about them – is, ‘I’ll bet you’ve seen everything.’  After 23 years of this, I think I’m probably pretty close.

What brings me back to the office every day is how much I learn from my clients.  I wanted to be a philosopher or a cultural anthropologist. I love to read about neuroscience and psychology.  My job allows me to apply my fascination with how humans operate, relate to one another, and can be urged into their future selves.  I have learned so much.

For instance, I prepare a lot of prenuptial agreements.  I do them for 20 somethings whose parents usher them into my office to make sure that grandma’s money does not go to the new spouse if things go downhill.  I have learned that these beautiful, young idealistic couples make us all smile with hope for the future….And these couples have no idea how disparate wealth affects a relationship.  Their parents are right to bring them in.

Premarital agreements between the once-marrieds are very different.  Everybody is wiser. Most of them have a, ‘I’m not making that mistake again’ story.  Some are a little desperate – either to marry someone who can take care of them or to marry someone who cannot leave them.The people who said, ‘I’m not marrying for the money so I will sign the prenup,’ can be really, really upset about how much a prenuptial agreement devalued their contribution to a marriage.   The people who wanted a prenup so that the divorce would be easy are really, really irritated when the other person tries to challenge the agreement. The prenup is often corrosive to the marriage. If the prenup was done to protect the children of one of the parties, those kids feel entitled to their parent’s money and see the new spouse as between them and their rightful inheritance.

Sometimes a prenuptial agreement can make everyone feel safer in the marriage, and can let a couple focus more on their marriage than what would happen if there was a divorce.  That was the case for a client of mine who was generously provided for in the prenup. She was able to just have fun in her marriage, and if her husband was not 100% focused on her, that was ok, because she did not have to worry about economic ruin.  In turn, he had a happier wife and a lot more freedom to just be him (no, this is not about an open relationship). Another client did a post- up with her husband so that they could fashion a marriage based upon non-traditional values and still feel safe enough to co-parent.  (Ok, this one was about an open relationship).

Other times, a prenup can make a spouse feel trapped, bought for too cheap, and without a way to make the other spouse care if they leave.  I watched one woman become exactly what her husband had feared when her marriage was ending and she thought if she did not challenge the prenup, she would have nothing.  And she was right, because she had spent her own savings during the marriage. They lost their marriage, their ability to co-parent their daughter, and a lot of money.

For the elderly, a prenuptial agreement can ultimately be used by an adult child with a financial power of attorney to put the party with less wealth in a very precarious situation at the time of the death of the wealthy spouse.  Some say people are at their worst when they divorce – I say they are at their worst when someone is about to die.

I have learned that the best prenuptial agreements are those that provide something for both parties, that reflect the values and goals of both people, and that have terms that both people worked on and have ownership in.  Prenuptial agreements can be really good for a marriage if done right, and can, frankly, be a cause of their demise” (Willoughby).

 

Willoughby, K. R. Esq., Genesee Living Magazine.

 

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