Ruth Ann Harnisch
If your relationship can't survive the creation
of a prenuptial agreement, perhaps it doesn't deserve to
survive. After all, money is the number one reason couples
fight, and sometimes fights lead to separation. That's when
you discover the truth: You do have a financial agreement.
Your government drew it up for you, just as the government
has an estate plan for you if you die without a will.
I was the moneyed spouse in my first marriage.
I felt robbed by the financial settlement at divorce. I
knew firsthand what failure to create a legal agreement
about money could cost, so I insisted on a prenuptial agreement
when I was ready to remarry.
I'd like to tell you that my second husband
and I created an agreement that both of us thought was fair,
and that we had loving and reasonable discussions about
the contract. I'd like to tell you that, but it would be
a big fat lie.
We made almost every mistake possible, according
to today's experts. Perhaps our biggest mistake was tiptoeing
around the specifics. The two of us had general conversations
in which we came to vague agreements about what each of
us wanted to protect. My husband-to-be wanted to protect
his assets. I wanted to protect myself against poverty-I
was giving up a lucrative career. Then he met with his lawyer,
I met with my lawyer, and the result was a "sign this or
we don't get married" ultimatum, just before the wedding.
Our attorneys were more concerned with the document than
with the people who were signing it or the relationship
it was supposed to serve. It was a bitter process, and we
didn't know how to make it a better process.
That was 18 years ago, when these agreements
were thought to be useful only for the wealthy, and it was
nearly impossible to ask anyone but an attorney about such
private matters. Now, thanks to the Internet, Judge Judy,
and an explosion of personal financial advice in the media,
lots of people know that every couple needs a financial
Regardless of your net worth, income, gender,
marital status, age, or just about anything else, if you're
in a couple and you share a home or any financial arrangements,
a legal agreement is in both of your best interests.
in Marriage Institute
Founded in 1998 by Lorna Wendt, the Equality in Marriage
Institute helps people understand and obtain equality
before, during, and after marriage. Its website, call
center, and programs provide resources and support
to both men and women in any kind of couples relationship.
The website also offers resources for parents and
friends, including a thoughtful guide called "The
Commitment Conversation," which may be ordered as
agreements can actually help bring a couple closer together,
if the couple gets good advice on how to talk about the issues
constructively. My favorite resource is the nonprofit Equality
In Marriage Institute, founded in 1998 by Lorna Wendt. She
thought marriage was a 50-50 proposition-until her wealthy
husband left her and offered her 10-90. Because even that
tiny share was in the millions, many thought she should be
grateful and go away. It was principle that made her fight
for what she thought marriage guaranteed-half. She was awarded
much more than her husband offered, although the court didn't
agree that marriage meant 50-50. She used some of her wealth
to found the Institute, determined to help others learn from
my husband and me, our relationship survived the prenup,
despite our initial clumsiness, and now we are working on
financial agreements regarding our estate. Thanks to nearly
two decades of learning to communicate clearly and with
respect for each other's sensitivities, we have avoided
the painful mistakes we made in the prenup process. We are
working with trusted advisors whose goal is to serve us
as a couple without turning us into adversaries. It's important
for us to make plans for the distribution of our assets;
we know that if we don't create our own legal agreement,
the government already has one written for us.
Ann Harnisch is
of the board of directors
of More Than Money, and serves on the board of directors
of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the nonprofit arm of
the Society of Professional Journalists. She serves on the
board of governors of the International Association of Coaches,
as well as several advisory boards. Ms. Harnisch is president
of The Harnisch Family Foundation and is also a personal
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