Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Post-Nuptial Contracts -- New Way to Save Failing Marriages??


There appears to be a growing trend of using post-nuptial contracts as a way of "saving" rocky marriages.  Here are some excerpts from Abigail Trafford, A Mid-Marriage Change in the Rules May Make Sense, Washington Post, May 27, 2008, at HE06:

The post-nup is a contract signed during marriage to manage financial affairs and divide income and assets in the event of death or divorce. Unheard of 25 years ago, this mid-marriage document is gaining a foothold in American matrimonial culture. * * * In a recent survey of members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 49 percent said they had seen an increase in post-nuptial agreements in the past five years.

Like its better-known cousin, the prenuptial agreement, the post-nup is responding to two demographic trends: the overall aging of the population and the increasingly common pattern of marriage, divorce and remarriage along with its complicated legacy of children from different relationships.

One purpose of the post-nup is estate planning. "That is a perfectly good reason to do it," says Jeff Atkinson, principal author of "The American Bar Association Guide to Marriage, Divorce & Families" * * *." It is a way to direct retirement benefits to children of a previous marriage, or to an adult child with special needs. Or to make sure a beloved summer cabin stays in the family by making it separate from the couple's community property.

But using a post-nup to heal a troubled marriage is controversial.

"There are cases where that's advisable," says Gregg Herman, a family law attorney in Milwaukee. "But I only recommend it where there is an equal desire to stay married and work on the marriage." These are committed couples with "soft" problems of incompatibility, from struggling with retirement issues to coping with boredom. "Counseling and joint therapy are critical to these people," Herman says.

The post-nup is not recommended for couples who are confronting the "hard" problems: physical or mental abuse, infidelity, substance abuse. Nor for people who are really planning to break up and want to use the post-nup as a Trojan horse settlement in any future divorce battle. * * *

The temptation is to use the post-nup as leverage to change behavior. For example, if one has a drinking problem or has had an affair but wants to preserve the marriage, the other makes staying together conditional on signing an agreement that says in effect: If you slip up again, you give up your rights -- you have to pay me a lot of money in support and I get the house, too! This kind of post-nup is really an ultimatum. Money becomes the glue of the marriage.

Special thanks  to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.


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