Divorce likely is low on the list of prospects you wish to consider as you prepare for marriage. However, taking the time today to learn about prenuptial agreements may help you to better protect your future in the event the marriage does not work out as planned. These agreements also may be used to establish what happens to your property in the event you pass before your spouse.
A prenuptial agreement is a legally binding document that protects your assets and financial interests should you and your fiancé(e) later become separated or divorced. While once considered an option for only the very wealthy, the “pre-nup” has become an important resource for couples of all means and backgrounds.
We understand the special concerns that surround drafting this legal document. Our offices in Stroudsburg, Palmerton and Bethlehem handle such cases with efficiency and discretion, focusing on protecting the best interests of our clients and their families. With respect to the many considerations at stake, we have provided information below to better help you understand your options.
The Division of Property in Pennsylvania
There are two categories of property to consider in the event of a divorce:
- Separate property – may include property acquired prior to marriage, an inheritance or other gift acquired during marriage or property acquired after separation; and
- Marital property – all assets and income acquired during marriage (this can include a property purchased during the marriage, even if the deed only includes the name of one spouse).
Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state for the purposes of divorce. This means the courts aim to divide marital assets and debts in a way that is fair. The end goal is for each party to walk away on equal footing.
However, this guiding principle does not mean a 50/50 division of property. The court has some discretion when making decisions about who gets what. A prenuptial agreement generally addresses the post-marriage division of both types of property.
Why Couples May Choose to Establish a Prenuptial Agreement
The reasons for choosing a prenuptial agreement are as diverse as the couples who elect to seek such coverage.
Among the reasons an individual or couple may seek a prenuptial agreement:
- one party is entering into the marriage with considerably more assets than the other party;
- one party has considerably more debt than the other and the other doesn’t want to be responsible for it upon divorce;
- one party is partial owner of a business (including family businesses) and wishes to avoid a spouse’s claims to the business in the event of divorce;
- one or both parties have children from a previous relationship and wish to bequeath that child with specific separate properties in the event of a divorce; and
Prenuptial agreements can serve as peace of mind for an individual or couple wishing to establish a well-thought-out plan in the event of divorce or separation.
Establishing a Legally Enforceable Prenuptial Agreement
A prenuptial agreement is only enforceable in Pennsylvania if it meets certain requirements, including:
- both parties made a full and honest disclosure of assets at the time of the contract; and
- there was no coercion or fraud involved in the signing of the document (a pre-nup is invalid if one of the parties was under duress at the time of signing).
Your prenuptial agreement can establish the division of property in most any manner, provided it meets those two requirements. It is in the best interest of all involved for each party to secure his or her own legal counsel prior to the signing of such a document.
Learning if a Prenuptial Agreement is Right for You