I’ve always thought that there’s nothing more romantic than a pre-nuptial agreement. The romance, of course, is not between the wealthy party and their intended, but between the wealthy party and their money. After all, nothing says “I love you, but I love my money more” better than a prenuptial agreement.
The classic prenuptial agreement scenario is where one party is extremely wealthy and the other is not. The wealthy party is afraid that if the marriage fails then they will lose a substantial portion of their wealth, so they invite the other party to enter into a prenuptial agreement limiting the amount of any claim that the other party may make against them in the event of a divorce. The prenuptial agreement may even state that the wealthy party will retain all of the wealth they owned prior to the marriage.
But are prenuptial agreements only for the wealthy?
A report from America suggests that that may no longer be the case.
The report, from the CNBC news channel, tells us that a 2016 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 62% of the family lawyers who responded had seen an increase in the total number of clients who were seeking prenuptial agreements during the previous three years, and 51% reported an increase in the number of ‘millennials’ requesting prenuptial agreements.
The report speculates that millennials may not be attracted to prenuptial agreements just to protect their wealth. After all, many may not have had time to accumulate significant wealth. Instead, says the report, millennials may be more concerned about debt than wealth.
Obviously on a divorce debts are taken into account just as assets are. Thus, for example, debts may be subtracted from assets before the assets are divided, effectively resulting in the non-debtor spouse (assuming the debts were in the other spouse’s sole name, rather than joint debts) being responsible for a significant proportion of the other spouse’s debts.
And those debts can be substantial. The report cites in particular student loans, which obviously would usually have been incurred prior to the marriage. It seems that the issue of student loans is as big in America as it sadly now is in this country (back in my day the state paid most of my university and all of my college fees, something for which I have always been very grateful). English universities can now charge up to a maximum of £9,250 per year for an undergraduate degree, meaning that after a three year degree a graduate may be left with a debt of nearly £28,000 just for tuition fees alone. Then they may have to attend another educational institution for the vocational part of their education. I seem to recall just recently seeing a newly qualified barrister mention on Twitter that their total student loan was in excess of £50,000. These are huge debts, which will still be around long into the marriage before they are repaid.
So perhaps it is no surprise that the non-debtor party might be a little concerned about the spectre of the other party’s debts.
But there is still the issue of raising the thorny question of entering into a prenuptial agreement. The report quotes a family lawyer who comments: “It can always be a touchy subject. You are drawing lines around mine, yours and ours that can feel counter intuitive when you are planning a marriage.” Well, quite, although I suspect that some may react to the raising of the topic by calling the whole thing off.
Or perhaps I am wrong. The report tells us that millennials are actually better predisposed towards prenuptials than previous generations (including my own). The reason for this, it suggests, is that millennials aren’t as romantic as earlier generations, many themselves being children of divorce. They have also grown in the age of dating apps. These things, says the report, have in some cases contributed towards divorcing the millennial mind-set from the romanticism around marriage.
They used to say that what happens first in America will be repeated on this side of the pond. Maybe therefore we might be about to see prenuptial agreements being more widely used over here, and not just by the wealthy.