More Women Say 'I Do' to Prenups

More women are seeking prenups to protect retirement benefits.

April 26, 2010, 4:05 PM

Sept. 27, 2010 — -- At 23 years old, Kristi fell in love and married a young med student. He suffered a traumatic brain injury three months later and after less than a year of marriage, Kristi filed for divorce.

Her in-laws targeted her wallet, suing the teacher for alimony and interest earned on retirement funds, stock, and her personal savings account.

That was seven years ago, back when a prenuptial agreement didn't seem necessary. Now, she says, "I feel like the cost of my successes as a single woman is worth a lot more to me now than they were at 23. I also learned the hard way that you can't control life. You can only control yourself."

For at least half of the population, matrimony doesn't come with a happily ever after. And, when it's time to determine who gets the castle and the dowry, it's up to the judge to dictate how to spread the wealth. Unless your finances are protected with a prenup.

In the last five years, more divorce attorneys reported a spike in requests for prenuptials agreements. In a poll, 73 percent of the 1,600 attorneys that are members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported an increase in the contractual documents that specify how marital assets should be divided should a divorce happen. And, 36 percent of attorneys saw a rise in the inclusion of pensions and retirement funds in prenups.

"Oftentimes pension and retirement funds are the parties' biggest assets and they can be substantial and people want to protect them when they're entering into another marriage or a marriage," says Marlene Eskind Moses, president of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

The bottom line is that more couples no longer want to face the risk of losing retirement funds if relationships don't work out.

Prenups can also be loaded with emotional considerations -- men might see them as a business decision, while many women believe that planning the results of a divorce questions the longevity of a relationship.

"People recognize it's not just for the rich and famous but it's important for people for a multitude of reasons. It could be important to protect a spouse in the marriage if the spouse entering in the marriage has lack of debt," says Moses.

The Second Time Around

Kristi, who at 30 is again engaged to be married, says that although she believes her marriage will never need a prenuptial agreement, she wants protection against an institution she does not have faith in: the state of Louisiana.

In her settlement from her first marriage, it wasn't sharing the interest on the income she earned for the first two years of her career that she found most troublesome. "What hurts the most was that he was awarded money that I didn't even earn -- my grandfather worked until the day he died (literally) and that stock was my piece of him. It kills me to think that my ex-husband has a piece of that -- he didn't even know or love my grandfather," says Kristi.

With their growing earning power and assets, experts say more women are seeking prenups. Some 52 percent of divorce attorneys reported an increase in women seeking prenups.

"With additional employment opportunities and more roles in making money, acquiring money, keeping money and giving money, women are much more involved [in finances] so consequently they recognized how important it is to plan for what would happen to them if their marriages do not work out," says Moses.

A relationship Website, an online debate rages over prenups. One commenter shared her divorce story on the site writing, "My ex took me to the bloody cleaners. For over 10 years he was in a midlife 'arteest' crisis, forsaking his PhD job, and thinking he wanted to be a writer/poet/singer, and I had to support him."

After the couple divorced, the poster wrote that she was sued for half of everything. "I had to keep him in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed because I had set a precedent, even though he is fully capable of earning a six-figure income." As a result, "damn straight I got a prenup in my second marriage."

Oft-times women and men are afraid to ask about prenups. "People don't like to think of premarital agreements," says Linda Lea Viken at Viken Law Firm in Rapid City, South Dakota. "Whomever didn't suggest it tends to get very defensive."

Cohabitation Agreements

To help motivate clients towards better planning, Viken includes a note in closing letters to clients when a case has ended: "Remember that if you marry again you should have a premarital agreement to protect your assets."

As more people skip marriage and move right in Viken, the newly elected president of AAML, says it's wise to consider cohabitation agreements, which are written agreements between unmarried same-sex or heterosexual couples.

That's what Lauren Lyons Cole, a certified financial planner, did when her then-boyfriend asked her to move into his apartment. After discussing the emotional and financial consequences if the two parted ways, they decided on a verbal cohabitation agreement that would share the financial burden if the two were to break up.

"If I moved in with him, I'd have to move out, and the rental market could make it harder to find an affordable apartment in my range. What I realized is that moving in together is an emotional risk: you're not married and you're not engaged and I felt like I was also taking on the financial risk," says Cole. "We talked about how we could neutralize the financial risk, and basically agreed that if we did break up, he would help me with the financial process of finding a new apartment and furniture."

The two did split a little later, Cole's boyfriend helped her with the move, and things went along the lines of their agreement.

"It's an important financial discussion to have because you fall in love with the heart but then your pocketbook is affected if it falls apart, then you have heartache at two levels," says Moses.

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