Free Love 'Boomers' Urging Kids to Get Prenups

Photo: Dad Made Me Do It: Boomer Parents Urge Kids to Sign Prenups: Baby Boomers, Embittered by Divorce and Financial Loss, Encourage Their Adult Children to Sign Prenuptial AgreementsCourtesy Heather Boyd
Heather Boyd and her husband were asked by his parents to sign a prenuptial agreement.

Meredith was just a couple of months into her engagement when her parents broached an uncomfortable subject: getting a prenuptial agreement.

They worried, the Connecticut woman said, about the investments they'd made for her since childhood as well as the more than $75,000 she had inherited from her grandmother.

Meredith, who asked that her real name be withheld because she was discussing sensitive financial issues, said she didn't mind the idea but was nervous about how her fiance would react. Her father, meanwhile, "was really adamant about seeing my grandmother's money go where she intended it to go."

Meredith's parents, both born in the 1950s, are baby boomers. The 78-million-strong postwar generation once preached "free love" but now, family lawyers say, they're often preaching something else, especially to their children: safeguarding their finances before they tie the knot.

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Prenup-touting boomers are motivated at least in part by their own experiences and those of friends and family, said Barry Finkel, a family law attorney specializing in prenuptial agreements in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"They've been through divorces, they've seen their parents and friends go through divorces, and they've seen what kinds of financial devastation can occur," he said. "When they realize their children are going to be inheriting or gifted large amounts of money, they don't want their children [potentially] having to give up some of these assets."

Some also are hoping their children can use prenups to protect their future earnings. Susan Jordan, 48, of Coco Beach, Florida, already is encouraging her 19-year-old stepson to consider a prenuptial agreement even though he's still in the dating phase of his relationship.

Learning From Their Parents' Experience?

When the young man's father -- Jordan's husband -- divorced his first wife years ago, he lost half his retirement savings, among other assets, and also was saddled with a $2,500 monthly alimony payment. Her husband's experience, Jordan said, prompted her to take the lead role in the alimony reform group Family Law Outreach Group of Florida.

Jordan said she hoped a prenup could help her stepson avoid a similar fate. If he ever decided to get married without one, she said, "it would be a devastating blow to his dad and I."

The last recession notwithstanding, boomers like Jordan -- who has helped set aside some $40,000 in investments for her stepson -- often have more to give to their children than earlier generations.

"There was a lot of money earned and there was huge growth in this country for that generation," said Marcy Katz, a matrimonial law attorney at the New York City firm Fox Rothschild. "When parents feel they've earned the money and given the money to their children, they don't want non-family to get the money."

Even those who've seen their wealth plummet during the financial crisis still may have an interest in prenups.

"A very good reason to enter into a prenuptial agreement is to protect the limited resources that exist," said Marlene Eskind Moses, the president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Sometimes, it's not about what parents have given -- but what adult children, who are getting married at later ages than a generation ago, have thus far managed to earn for themselves.

Bill Horrigan, 62, a divorced and remarried man from Lynnfield, Massachusetts, wants his son to get a prenup to protect the house the 32-year-old bought some six years ago. Like Jordan, Horrigan is involved with a local alimony law reform group, Mass Alimony Reform.

Horrigan's son plans to marry this fall. His house, Horrigan said, "is an asset that he's entering into a relationship with that potentially he could have to divide," he said. "How would you feel if it was your son?"

But would-be brides and grooms aren't always keen on taking prenup advice. Horrigan said his son is undecided on the issue and seems uncomfortable raising it with his fiancee.

Heather Boyd, 22, of Durham, North Carolina, wishes her fiance's parents never had brought it up at all.

She thought she had a great relationship with her fiance's father, she said, "so when I found out that the prenup was his idea, I was pretty hurt."

Young Couples Choose for Themselves

The couple ultimately chose to marry without a prenup.

"Ultimately, it was our decision since we were the ones making the commitment to each other," Boyd said. "We felt like signing a prenup for his parents' sake was an insulting and unnecessary burden on our marriage."

"I still feel a little hurt when I think about it," she said.

Fortunately for Meredith, the Connecticut woman whose parents urged her to get a prenup, there were no such hard feelings. To her relief, her future husband was perfectly amenable to the idea. The couple now has been married for three years.

Meredith's husband said that the divorce of his own parents, who didn't have a prenuptial agreement, influenced his outlook.

"I saw firsthand what splitting up assets look like," he said. "I think a prenup helps ease that a little."