Even though the yearly average of prenuptial agreements continues to rise, making the personal decision to get one is not something that should be taken lightly.

The decision to have a prenuptial agreement depends greatly on your specific circumstances and your individual feelings.

Should I Get a Prenup?

Often, prenuptial agreements are made for couples that wish to get around normal state law in the case of divorce or death. This will usually happen if one partner has something that he or she wishes to keep if the marriage should end.

Most frequently, prenuptial agreements are made by an individual who has children or grandchildren from prior marriages. A prenuptial agreement will allow the individual to ensure that his or her property will be passed to the children or grandchildren, not the current spouse.

What Can Be Included in My Prenup?

There is a law known as the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act that provides guidelines for any couple who wishes to make concessions before entering marriage regarding property, alimony, wills, and life insurance benefits.

The following states have adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act: Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Maine; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; New Mexico; North Carolina; North Dakota; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Dakota; Texas; Utah; Virginia; Wisconsin.

Do We Need a Lawyer?

While you and your fiancé(e) may be able to make your own agreement by evaluating your needs, agreeing on what each of you want the agreement to say, and even writing a draft, if your goal is to end up with a binding prenuptial agreement, you will have to get two lawyers (one for each party) to draw up the actual legal prenuptial agreement.

Will a Court Uphold My Prenup?

Nearly all courts are willing to uphold prenuptial agreements, as every state now permits them.

Keep in mind, however, that a prenuptial agreement that is deemed unfair, seems to almost invite divorce, or fails to meet state requirements will be set aside.

Also, courts will not uphold agreements that are non-monetary in nature.

Criteria for a Valid Agreement

The laws governing the validity of premarital agreements vary from state to state. In general, the agreements must be in writing and signed by the parties.

Disclosure of Assets

In most states, the parties (particularly the wealthier party) must disclose their income and assets to the other party. This way, the parties will know more about what they might be giving up.

In some states, it may be possible to waive a full disclosure of income and assets, but the person waiving that right should do so knowingly, and it is best if each party has at least a general idea of the other’s net worth.

Sometimes it is difficult to make a precise statement of a party’s net worth. If, for example, the husband or wife owns a business that is closely held (meaning shares of the company’s stock are not traded on a public stock market), it may be difficult to ascertain the value of the business. In that circumstance, it is usually best to acknowledge the difficulty of precise valuation in the agreement and then state the minimum net worth or the range of possible net worth of the party.

Avoiding Fraud or Duress

In order to be valid, an agreement must not be the result of fraud or duress. An agreement is likely to be invalid on the basis of fraud if one person (particularly the wealthier one) deliberately misstates his or her financial condition.

For example, if one party hides assets from their future spouse so that the spouse will agree to a low level of support in case of divorce, a court probably would declare the agreement invalid. Similarly, if one person exerts excessive emotional pressure on the other to sign the agreement, a court also might declare the agreement to be invalid because of duress.

Prior Review

In order to avoid an appearance of duress and to give the parties ample time to consider the agreement, the agreement should be reviewed and signed well before the wedding.

Most states do not set a specific time at which premarital agreements must be signed, but the greater amount of time the parties have to consider the agreement, the greater the likelihood a court would find the agreement to be voluntary.

If the wealthier person presents the agreement to the prospective spouse for the first time one day before the wedding, a court may later find that the agreement was invalid because of duress. A last-minute premarital agreement is not automatically invalid, but timing may be a significant factor in determining whether the agreement is valid.

Involvement of Lawyers

An agreement might be valid even if both parties were not represented by lawyers, but using lawyers is a good idea in order to help make sure the agreement is drafted properly and that both parties are making informed decisions.

The lawyer for the wealthier party usually prepares the initial draft of the agreement. The less wealthy party and that party’s attorney, if there is one, should review the agreement carefully and ask questions about any matters that are uncertain.

The likelihood of having a valid, enforceable agreement increases if the less wealthy party’s interests are well represented and some back-and-forth negotiations take place.

Additional Steps

In order to demonstrate that the parties truly know what they are agreeing to, some attorneys favor taking additional steps to illustrate the knowledge of each party about the agreement. In addition to signing the agreement, the parties also may place their initials on pages with key provisions, such as the provisions of the agreement pertaining to disclosures of assets, distribution of property, and support.

The parties, particularly the less wealthy party, might be asked to prepare a handwritten statement, in the parties’ own words, reflecting understanding and consent to the agreement.

Alternatively, the signing of the agreement might be videotaped (or audiotaped) with the parties providing oral statements of their understanding and consent to the agreement (in addition to their written consent).