More couples saying 'I do' to prenups

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Prenuptial agreements are on the rise, according to a survey of divorce lawyers, who also reported a notable increase in the number of women initiating requests for written legal contracts with their partners before they tie the knot.

"Historically, more males have been the ones asking for prenups," said Nan Cohen, an O'Hara-based divorce coach and talk show host for KDKA and KQV. "But now you have more females in the workforce and they have more to protect.

"The question of what is his, hers, yours, mine and ours can get really complicated sometimes, especially when a marital breakup occurs. A prenuptial agreement can iron these issues out and help eliminate confusion."

More than 60 percent of the divorce lawyers polled cited an increase in prenuptial agreements during the past three years, according to a recent survey of members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

The top three items commonly covered in prenups throughout this period of time were noted as "protection of separate property," 80 percent of respondents; "alimony and spousal maintenance," 77 percent of respondents; and "division of property," 72 percent of respondents.

PG graphic: Marriage and divorce comparison
(Click image for larger version)

Meanwhile, 46 percent of the lawyers surveyed said they've seen a significant increase in women asking for pre-nups.

"More and more people are asking for prenuptial agreements because our society has become much more financially sophisticated about what happens upon death or divorce," said Alton Abramowitz, president of the Chicago-based AAML.

"The reason people enter into prenups is because of what is called private ordering, which means you work out a settlement in advance as to what everyone's rights will be in the event of a divorce, in terms of property, alimony, rights to occupy the marital residence, life insurance, health insurance and rights to any other property acquired in the marriage."

Census data show that since the end of the Korean War, an average of 45 percent to 50 percent of all marriages in the U.S. have ended in divorce. That may be a bit misleading. For example, a comparison of marriages and divorces in Allegheny County in recent years show there are typically more than twice as many marriages as divorces each year. Critics of the 50 percent divorce rate figure say the statistic does not account for marriages that already existed before the annual tally, many of which do not end in divorce.

Still, most people have seen the effects of divorce and are aware that it can bring financial complications.

Robin Frank, an attorney with the Raphael, Ramsden & Behers law firm, Downtown, said she has seen an uptick in prenuptial agreements. She thinks it's because people are more aware of the divorce rate in this country and they are taking it into consideration when they plan their own marriages.

She suggests couples discuss the agreement early in the relationship, rather than surprise a partner with it right before the wedding.

"I think a prenuptial agreement is a good idea," Ms. Frank said. "But it depends on the circumstances. Some couples may be uncomfortable with the idea."

While such agreements can be very powerful in deciding who gets what assets during a divorce, they are not always ironclad. Family court judges may decide not to enforce some of the terms concerning property rights or alimony. But the contract can provide guidelines for what happens if a couple divorces or one of them dies.

Before having a prenuptial agreement drawn up, Mr. Abramowitz suggests couples define how expenses will be shared and if there will be joint or separate bank accounts. He recommended they decide who will own the home and where the other partner would live.

The prenup also should define how the estate would be eventually handled and cover any pre-existing obligations one partner might have to previous spouses, other children and extended family members.

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.


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