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What Are Premarital Agreements?

Before getting married, many couples are now choosing to enter into a premarital agreement. Premarital agreements, also known as pre-nuptial or ante-nuptial agreements, once seemed to be reserved for Hollywood stars or celebrities. However, over the last decade, it has become more and more common for a spouse to sign a premarital contract with his or her future spouse, especially on the West coast.

Most people believe that premarital agreements are only meant to allow both parties to keep their own assets if the marriage fails. However, a premarital agreement can also provide children the right to receive the assets, or a large part of them, if both parents pass away. One of the main purposes of a premarital agreement is to work out all of the divorce details rather than leave these potential issues unresolved. The increasing number of premarital agreements can be seen as an indicator that couples acknowledge their marriage has a fifty percent chance of ending up in divorce and prefer to reach an agreement prior to marriage in order to prevent future disputes.

A premarital agreement can cover many areas, so it is important to determine what you should and should not include in the agreement. A premarital agreement should contain a detailed premarital history, including family circumstances. This can be very important when one party is marrying for a second or third time and has children from the previous marriages. Also, there must be a thorough written disclosure of both parties' assets and liabilities brought into the marriage. Additionally, the agreement must stipulate how earnings during the marriage will be shared in case of divorce. Eventually, the parties should be given enough time to thoroughly review the agreement; to allow time for review, couples are seeking more advice about premarital agreements and are discussing possible agreements well in advance of the wedding.

If you decide to enter a premarital agreement with your future spouse, you may want to consult an attorney. Even though a premarital agreement may not look complicated on its face, and even if you think you could save money by doing it yourself, it would probably be helpful to consult an attorney for legal advice. In theory, you are not legally obligated to hire an attorney. However, without legal counsel, a premarital agreement could create issues down the road if not done correctly. You would be wise to consult an attorney to determine what steps you need to take legally.


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Generally, debts incurred during the marriage are community obligations. This includes credit card bills, even if the credit card is in one name only. Student loans are an important exception because they are considered separate property debts. Community property possessions and community property debts are divided equally unless both spouses agree to an unequal division in writing. If spouses can't agree on the division of debts and possessions, a judge makes that decision.
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