The dreaded question -- Is asking for a prenup a good idea or buzzkill?

Written by
Peter Dunn

Dear Pete,

I am 30, as is my girlfriend, and have a serious and complicated question(s). I wanted to seek some financial and relationship advice. How should -- or should I --present a prenup?

She carries a lot of debt from school loans that will likely follow her a long time. Until a year ago, when we moved in together, she had no idea of what a 401k was and currently contributes as much as she can monthly now, which is $100.

I, however, have paid off my student loans, and I also built a house, and the value has increased by 25% in just two years. I have $50,000 in my 401k, and pretty much everything in the house is, technically, mine. I have a grandparent that's health is drastically diminishing and from what my parents have told me, they saved and had a much more successful career than they led on -- so I am humbled to have some of that wealth heading my way.

Is a prenup a good idea, and if so, how the heck do you bring that up? If not, how do I get past that? I know as soon as that noun gets brought up, there's a negative connotation. --Brad

I’m sweating. No question I receive on a regular basis makes me more nervous than this question. Why? I’m not quite sure, other than I feel a slight separation between what I would personally do and what I would advise others to do. That’s usually not good.

But answering you with “I would never personally seek a prenuptial agreement if I was in the better financial position,” isn’t exactly helpful. I would offer to sign one if I was in the lesser financial position as a token of my commitment, but I would never ask someone else to sign one.

However if the question revolves around a prenup being a good financial decision, the answer is undeniably yes. Simply, not having a prenuptial agreement can put people in a financial jam, while signing a prenuptial agreement spellsout the exact financial reality of both parties upon separation.

Which really gets to the heart of the matter — I don’t believe this is a financial question, even though money is involved.

Your girlfriend’s financial reality is a byproduct of a lot more than just her decisions. I’m a huge proponent of personal responsibility, but her current debt level and 401k knowledge has as much to do with her upbringing as anything else.

You’ve run every conceivable scenario through your mind. “If she trusts me, she won’t care,” you surmise. Following immediately by her hypothetical reply: “If you trusted me, you wouldn’t ask.” Around and around you go.

There’s no doubt that prenuptial agreements have a negative connotation. But the reality is it’s a tool to help provide stability and clarity for all parties involved. And while the entire idea and process can be both uncomfortable and harrowing, the mere suggestion of a prenuptial agreement can be looked at as a positive development. If we’re trying to get to a place as a culture where we can openly discuss our financial lives in a transparent and vulnerable manner, can’t we do so formally?

When one person’s financial reality is markedly good while the other’s is some degree of not as good, then a prenup seems financially more appropriate. Yet, a prenup is easier to talk about when both parties have a similar financial realities.

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed an uptick in prenuptial agreements over the last couple of decades. I would likely attribute this trend to people getting married at older ages, once they have more established, or damaged, financial situations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of women getting married for the first time has climbed to 27.8in 2018, from 25.1 in 2000. And the age of men getting married for the time has risen to 29.8 from 26.8.

Additionally, student loans play a greater role in the marriage equation than they used to. Not only have student loans affected marriage age, but they’ve also led to numerous marriages starting deep in debt. I think your situation proves this.

Whether this is spin or not, if you’re going to present the idea to her, present it as an opportunity to provide her security and clarity. However if you do that, you must then provide her security and clarity. A prenuptial agreement should not be one-sided, and the presentation of a one-sided agreement could severely damage your relationship.

My advice is a prenuptial agreement is a very smart financial decision, and in many ways, a very practical solution to a lifetime of uncertainty. But I’m levying this advice despite the fact that I would never personally take my own advice on this topic.

Does this make me a hypocrite? I’m not quite sure. But it does make me honest.

This article is published courtesy of USA Today.

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