Two decades ago, when I was getting married, someone I know said to me, “If you are thinking about one of those prenuptial agreements, then you shouldn’t even be marrying the person.”
I ended up not getting a prenup and I ended up divorced. And, I have never regretted not getting “one of those prenuptial agreements.” What did do before I got married was familiarize myself with the divorce laws in Illinois, just in case things didn’t work out. According to divorce attorney, Amanda Clayman, that was pretty smart.
“Not everyone needs prenuptial agreements, but everyone should be educated about finances and how the law will apply to your assets in the event of a divorce or death,” said Clayman, who is a partner at the Chicago and Bannockburn based law firm, Katz & Stefani, LLC.
Clayman, who has been practicing law for 22 years, said she would advise a prenuptial agreement in the following situations (though there are other circumstances where it may also make sense):
1. A second or a third marriage, especially if you have children from a previous marriage.
2. Those involved in a family business, as the laws can be complicated about how income is treated. A prenuptial agreement can also protect the business in a divorce.
3. In cases of substantial or complicated wealth.
4. People who just want clarity and view a prenup as a way to strengthen their relationship and minimize pressure and stress.
Clayman, a graduate of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, said if you are planning on getting a prenup, do it well in advance of the wedding.
“Just get it out of the way so you can enjoy all the wonderful times that lead up to a wedding without having to worry about legal issues,” Clayman said. “The process for prenuptial agreements is usually pretty quick, sometimes only a little more than a month or two.”
But once you decide you think a prenup is right for you, how do you bring up the subject with your fiancé? Clayman recommended talking to your partner at the right time.
Not an easy conversation to start, Clayman suggested beginning it by telling your partner you believe that being open about finances and financial planning is part of a healthy marriage, and that you want to make certain all financial matters are clear in advance, so that there is no added stress later.
“People who have a prenup have a guarantee and protection that they might not have otherwise,” she said.
If as a couple you decide you are ready to proceed, here are Clayman’s tips to make the process as smooth and easy as possible:
1. Have a real heart-to-heart with your partner to decide what things are most important to each of you, what you really want in the event the marriage doesn’t work out.
The conversation should be open and honest. Contrary to what some people believe, this kind of dialogue can actually be a healthy way to start a marriage.
2. Know your assets—gather all financial statements. Be prepared to list and identify all of them.
3. Hire a quality attorney who knows how to be collaborative versus litigious (which only leads to higher attorney’s fees.)
4. Be sure to refer to your agreement after you sign it, and make sure you follow through on any obligations.
For example, some agreements require parties to set up a joint account, buy a life insurance policy, or file and pay taxes in a specific way. You need to be sure you do what was agreed in the prenup.
Clayman referred to herself as “The prenup person at the firm,” but her divorce practice is also very large. She said her strengths are her ability to truly listen to her clients, and to help them through tough emotional times by keeping them focused on successful results.
As a mom of two teenagers, Clayman said she feels empathy for divorcing and divorced parents.
“I think my clients see that I have a softer side. Being a mom, I get how awful it is when your kids are having a hard time,” she said. “I try to help people go through the process in a respectful, dignified way, and to make decisions without getting emotions involved. Divorce can be an ugly process. I try to take the ugly out for people.”
Amanda Clayman is a partner at Katz & Stefani. To learn more or to contact Amanda, visit her page on the Katz & Stefani website.