Consider The Benefits of Prenups

She’s been divorced twice, but Vickie Parks is confident this time she’s found the right man.

The 49-year-old is engaged to Tom Rasmussen, 45. The Colorado couple is planning an August wedding. Parks has three grown children from her previous marriages; it’s the first marriage for Rasmussen. Parks would like them to draft a will at some point, but she thinks they’ll forgo a prenuptial agreement. "We don’t need that," Parks said. "The ring (symbolizes) the commitment that you make to each other for life."

The divorce rate is between 40 percent and 50 percent for first marriages, and is even higher for second and third marriages, yet only about 5 percent of married couples have a prenuptial agreement.

Splitting property

Prenuptial agreements can help to determine how property will be divided upon divorce or the death of one of the partners. They’re not just for the Tom Cruises and Katie Holmeses of the world, experts say. "I’m all in favor of them," said attorney Levi Brooks of Fort Collins, Colo. "Do they make the (divorce) process easier? You still have all the things they acquired during the marriage. But it eliminates (from the negotiations) the major things couples fight about – the property they had before they married," Brooks said.

Couples who might benefit from a prenuptial agreement are often reluctant to bring the subject up, he said. "Part of the hesitation is ‘I don’t want to talk about what happens if we get a divorce,’ " Brooks said.

Prenuptial agreements are becoming more common, but not as common as one might think – given the divorce rate and the increase in the number of couples who are marrying at a later age after they’ve already acquired assets, attorney Scott Walker said.

While Walker handles about 35 divorces a year, some years he doesn’t encounter one divorcing couple with a prenuptial agreement. But he drafts about three to four agreements per year for couples that are marrying.

"Folks are becoming less trusting of their hearts and more trusting of their brains. They want to hedge their bets. In divorce, strange things can happen," he said.

Those who don’t think about a prenuptial agreement until they’ve already tied the knot can draft a similar postnuptial agreement, Walker said.

The cost for prenuptial agreements ranges from a few hundred dollars to thousands. Experts recommend that both parties have a lawyer.

Following are cases in which couples should seriously consider the agreements:

1. When one or both partners has significant assets going into a marriage. A prenuptial agreement can make it clear how that property will be treated if a couple divorces.

2. In a second marriage in which one of the partners has children. A prenuptial agreement can spell out what the first family will inherit if that partner were to die.

Debt incurred before the marriage remains the responsibility of the person who originally borrowed the money, even without a prenup, Brooks said.

But a couple might be wise to decide before they marry whether they will use community property to pay off either partner’s premarital debt, suggests Vickie Bajtelsmit, professor of finance at Colorado State University and author of "The Busy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom" (Amer Management, 2001, out of print).

"I’ve heard horror stories where people went in with blinders on. They paid off the debt and their partner disappeared."

One reason people forgo prenups is the feeling that "it won’t happen to me," Bajtelsmit said. "When you are getting married, the first thought is not, ‘Are they going to take my stuff?’ " she said.

On the flip side, some brides or bridegrooms-to-be use prenuptial agreements as a way of avoiding dealing with a lack of trust in their partner, said the Rev. Gary Emery, a marriage and family counselor who leads premarital classes at a number of churches.

"There are those who want a prenuptial because they believe for whatever reason that they can’t trust their partner. They think, ‘I’m not going to deal with that’ and they jump to the prenuptial," Emery said. "The trust issues will follow all the way through the marriage."

SOURCE: Poughkeepsie Journal