5 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Prenuptial Agreements

Form of prenuptial agreement with a pair of wedding rings - prenuptial agreements concept

Prenuptial agreements are often treated as complex and highly elite contracts crafted by the rich and the powerful. But this is one of several common myths and misconceptions about prenuptial agreements, especially in Michigan. Sorting out the truth from the fiction around prenuptial agreements can help you make wise decisions about whether you need one, and how it may be enforced, modified, or discarded altogether.

Myth #1: Prenups are Only for the Wealthy

The common assumption is that only wealthy families sign prenuptial agreements. In fact, prenups can benefit couples at almost any point on the socio-economic spectrum. They do far more than protect wealth. They also allow spouses to resolve potential future property disputes and set the ground rules for couples embarking on a new relationship dynamic. It allows engaged couples to have a clear understanding of each other’s assets, income, and expectations for the relationship.

Prenups aren’t just a document to make sure that one party gets to keep all their money and the other party gets nothing (in fact, when that happens, it’s possible the court will reform the document to insure equity is served). Prenups are customizable for each couple. A well-crafted prenuptial agreement can reduce conflict in the marriage, and can reduce the expense of litigation should the marriage end in one spouse’s death or divorce.

Myth #2: Prenuptial Agreements Only Benefit the Better-Off Party

There is a pervasive myth that prenuptial agreements are used by wealthy families to strip “gold-diggers” or less well-off parties of their spousal rights to marital property. However, one of the easiest ways to get a prenuptial agreement revoked is to show that it was unfair or one-sided when it was entered. In Michigan, a prenuptial agreement is only enforceable if it is fair, equitable, and reasonable for both parties. This means that the less-well-off spouse can, and should, negotiate specific benefits over the course of the marriage, and in the event of divorce.

Stay-at-home parents and homemakers can directly benefit from a well-drafted prenuptial agreement. If the couple expects that one parent will stay home with the children, they can build in provisions to protect the caregiver spouse in the event of death or divorce of the wage earner. For example, it can require the wage earner to maintain life insurance with the stay-at-home parent as beneficiary, and can ramp up property divisions, spousal support, and equitable distributions for the stay-at-home parent over the course of a lengthening marriage.

Myth #3: Getting a Prenup Sets You Up for a Divorce or a Bad Relationship

It is a common myth or misconception about prenups that they set a marriage up for failure. While drafting a prenuptial agreement is not the most romantic part of wedding planning, they can be effectively used in conjunction with pre-marital counseling to help the couple plan for their future together. A prenuptial agreement can give a framework for the couple’s financial discussions in the future, and can provide an example for thoughtful dispute resolution for when conflict inevitably arises.

Prenups for Lovers” by Arlene G. Dubin talks about prenuptial agreements should not be viewed as adversarial. It should be viewed as a way to continue caring for you and your spouse even in the event of a divorce, or even the death of one spouse. It is often a good idea to implement a trust agreement before getting married to ensure your assets are distributed upon your death in the manner you wish, in the event you are still married when you die. By taking the time and care to negotiate how you and your spouse will care for one another’s needs, financially, practically, and emotionally, should the marriage end.

Myth #4: Prenuptial Agreements are Not Enforceable in Michigan

The enforceability of prenuptial agreements in Michigan has been a point of contention in the last several years. There was a case that went through the Michigan courts of appeals that included some broad language that some attorneys attempt to use as a basis to argue they can significantly impact a parties’ ability to enforce or set aside a prenuptial agreement. The facts of that case, however, involved the invasion of a party’s separate property to pay higher child support when the recipient’s assets and income would have made it difficult to otherwise support the children - a fact scenario that may or may not be relevant in your particular circumstances.

Prenuptial agreements are enforceable in Michigan. The contracts that spouses sign in the time leading up to their marriage can be enforced in their subsequent divorce. However, if a Michigan court determines that either party does not have sufficient property to support themselves and the children in their care, or if one spouse actively contributes to the improvement or accumulation of separate property (such as by working at the other spouse’s business), the Court does still have the authority to invade that separate property and award it to the other spouse as equity requires. This is perhaps the most complicated part of any prenuptial agreement litigation in Michigan. However, it does not negate the value of entering prenuptial agreements to simply the divorce process. The Court can also deviate from the terms of the prenuptial agreement if circumstances change significantly and unforeseeably during the marriage, such as when there is extreme domestic violence.

Myth #5: Prenuptial Agreements are Expensive

Many people avoid entering prenuptial agreements because they believe they are expensive and a waste of time if the marriage is successful. It is true that both spouses will need to retain attorneys to negotiate the terms of the premarital agreement contract, and that does cost money. However, the hours saved in any future divorce litigation and in the administration of the family’s estate after their death far exceed the time spent preparing the agreement in the first place. Engaging in a prenuptial agreement can, in fact, save the family money overall.

Contact an Experienced Michigan Attorney

At NSSSB, we have decades of experience helping spouses and spouses-to-be resolve difficult issues, including negotiating prenuptial agreements. We understand when and how these agreements can be enforced, and what arguments to make when they need to be set aside. Click here to schedule a consultation with an attorney. We will listen to the details of your situation, answer your questions, and help you decide whether a postnuptial agreement is an option to keep your marriage intact.