'Til Prenup Do We Part

E-mail Lis

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue — these are the four requisite symbolic items every bride acquires as her day toward wedded bliss approaches.

But with the 21st century, I’ve noticed a new item added to the blushing bride’s traditional treasure trove — a prenup! Yes, this six-letter word, which previously garnered stares of shock and awe upon its mere utterance, seems as common as Britney’s wardrobe malfunctions and bad hairstyle.

Nothing says “I do” like a good ol’ fashion sit down with two lawyers as you sign along the dotted line — the implication of impending doom in the air. A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) declares that 80 percent of matrimonial lawyers reported an increase of prenuptial agreements in the past five years. So — what does this mean? Is it a smart move to protect yourself and your assets? Or does this kind of logic and practicality extract all the romance out of happily ever after?

Many of the newlyweds I know say that prenups just make sense, given that we live in a time where almost half of marriages end in divorce. According to Cheryl Lyn Hepfer, the president of the AAML, prenups are attractive to baby boomers who are on their second or third marriage because “they’re a bit more worldly and often have significantly more assets than the younger folks getting married.” These contracts are also starting to attract successful young professionals who are entering their first marriage — and also making six figures. Divorce attorney Bernard Clair says his prenup business has more than doubled in the past five years with a third of his clients entering first marriages.

It’s one thing to protect your earnings or the condo you’ve saved up for years to purchase—but lawyers also say that in addition to an increase in prenups, the betrothed aren’t afraid to get down and dirty with specific mandates dictating marital behavior. No mother-in-law sleepovers, only one football game per Sunday, and a husband has to work until he’s 65 — and these are the tame mentionables.

But some of these “lifestyle clauses” have also gone way over the top: “Fling fees” for infidelity (Michael Douglas has reportedly agreed to pay Catherine Zeta Jones five million dollars should he cheat), how often a couple can (ahem) have sex and even how much weight a wife can gain (in one instance, a reported $500 per excess pound) So much for spontaneity! And — if you’re a celebrity, the demands are even more outrageous, as you might expect.

Attorneys say some recent celebrity prenups include requiring a husband to pay $10,000 each time he’s rude to his wife’s family, allowing a spouse to perform random drug tests with financial sanctions for a positive result and, of course, a weight clause-Hollywood style. The celebrity weight clause limits a wife’s weight to 120 pounds — and if she indulges in a few calories too many, she’s got to give up $100,000 of her separate property. That would certainly force me to stick to a diet.

Prenuptial agreements can be a way to mark your territory, and earning power. Famed divorce lawyer Raoul Felder (who assisted Rudy Giuliani and Robin Givens through their separations) quipped that in today’s world, if you’re the breadwinner, “you ought to see a psychiatrist if you don’t get one.” Recently separated A-list actress Reese Witherspoon and her husband, Ryan Phillipe, exemplify this sentiment. As one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses, Witherspoon makes a reported $20 million per film — almost seven times what Phillipe earns! The blond beauty quickly earned the nickname “legally blind” for reportedly failing to ask for a prenup, when the A-list couple married in 1999.

Under California law, where the couple resides, earnings are split down the middle, which could burn a hole through Witherspoon’s bank account. Like California, these days most states are “equitable distribution” states. That means everything earned or bought after the wedding day is shared property that’s divided equally in a divorce. Another consideration, especially if you live in New York, (where the divorce rate is nearly eight times higher than the national average) is future wealth. The Big Apple is one of just a few states to allow your future earnings in the form of a professional degree or partnership to be considered shared property.

Prenup proponents say it’s important to get this hard-to-talk about issue on the table early. “The basic philosophy is that if you take the time to get married, you should take the time to discuss what role money will play in your relationship and what your endgame is for divorce,” says Courtney Knowles of Equality Marriage Institute. A major proponent of prenups is Donald Trump. He even advised Britney to get a prenuptial agreement to protect her assets once she announced her engagement to backup dancer Kevin Federline. Trump said, "I heard Britney Spears is not going to have a prenuptial agreement. She's making a huge mistake ... You have to have it." But the pop princess smartened up as she reportedly has a prenup entitling Federline to only $300,000 per year of marriage. The Donald acknowledges that it’s not romantic, but also feels there’s nothing romantic about losing your fortune. “A prenup is an ugly instrument, but [you’d] better have one … if I didn’t have mine, I would not own all these beautiful buildings.”

Here’s my quick prenup 101 class if you’re uncertain whether to enter this contractual process: If you and your beloved have each accumulated assets of your own — such as real estate, investments or inheritance, its often a good idea to keep that separate. If you own a business, one spouse has significantly more wealth than the other, or you’re divorced with children from a previous marriage, it is often a matter to consider. A simple agreement will cost each spouse approximately $2000, according to the American Bar Association. One more thing-- both parties should have lawyers.

But cheer up; if you and your honey can make it through these conversations, dinner at the in-laws will be a piece of cake. (Just make sure you don’t have any of those weight clauses in your contract!)


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• Celebrity Pre-nups

• E-mail Lis With Your Legal Questions!

Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.