In the United States, there are over 1,000 federal benefits, rights, and privileges associated with marital status. Such benefits include tax-free transfers of property, inheritance rights, health insurance coverage, and immigration benefits, among others.
Other common types of benefits that often go unrecognized until a dissolution of marriage or the death of a spouse include the right to support and property rights. One way to avoid contentious disputes between spouses or families is to execute a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement is a legally binding contract entered into by two individuals contemplating marriage. Since the 1970s, prenuptial agreements have been recognized in many U.S. jurisdictions, including New York and Connecticut. Some factors that can lead a court to determine that an agreement is unenforceable include unconscionable terms, lack of financial disclosure, lack of independent counsel, and lack of sufficient time for review and consideration of the agreement prior to execution.
There are various common misconceptions about prenuptial agreements, including that they only serve to force one spouse to forfeit alimony and property rights in the event of divorce, that only the wealthy require them, and that they can never be terminated or modified. To the contrary, prenuptial agreements can address the financial and property rights of the individuals during their marriage, as well as in the event of divorce or either of their deaths. They do not necessarily include a forfeiture of rights by either party and can, in fact, specifically grant support and/or property rights. Furthermore, prenuptial agreements are subject to termination and modification should the parties so choose. In many states, spouses can modify their prenuptial agreement by executing a postnuptial agreement, which is an agreement entered into after the date of marriage. Individuals who can benefit from prenuptial agreements include: those with children from prior relationships whom they wish to leave assets to; those who are financially responsible for third parties whom they wish to provide for; those who wish to avoid being responsible for their future spouse’s debt or other financial obligations, including court ordered obligations to a prior spouse; and business owners, particularly if they have business partners, among others.
Not only can a prenuptial agreement offer the benefit of clearly defined expectations during the marriage and in the event of death and divorce, but it facilitates an open dialogue between partners regarding their assets and liabilities, spending habits, and expectations regarding employment, family planning, and financial security. Nevertheless, many individuals decline to propose a prenuptial agreement to their significant other for fear of hurting their feelings or otherwise eliciting a negative response. One strategy to diffuse tension amongst partners is to submit to mediation. Mediation is a process in which the future spouses can participate in the decision-making process together with the aid of a neutral third party who can advise on the law and facilitate agreement. When selecting a mediator, it is important to identify one that has experience in family and matrimonial matters in your state. Individuals can enter mediation with or without separate counsel present to advocate on their behalf.
Another strategy is a collaborative approach. The collaborative method calls for the parties’ attorneys to work together collaboratively, rather than adversarially. The parties and their attorneys work together amicably in an effort to resolve all outstanding issues.
If the partners are uncomfortable taking part in negotiations, they can employ the traditional method in which their respective attorneys negotiate directly, with minimal client-to-client interaction.
If you are interested in presenting a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement to your partner or your partner has presented you with either agreement, contact Joseph Maya, Managing Partner at Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or directly via email atJMaya@Mayalaw.com for a complimentary consultation to discuss your case.