Getting married is a decision between two people to join their lives in a ceremony in front of their family and friends. Often people don’t consider the legal side of the agreement they’re making while they’re surrounded by flowers, cake, and champagne. The law considers marriage as more than just the union of loved ones—it’s also a legal contract. In Arizona, like most states, this marital contract is an agreement that all assets and debts accumulated during the marriage belong to the marital community. These assets and debts become subject to equitable division in the event of a divorce.
Today, many couples choose to protect themselves and their spouses by signing prenuptial agreements before marriage. If you’re considering this common-sense option, it helps to understand the facts about prenups, especially the way they protect both parties, rather than protecting one spouse against the other—a common misconception that sometimes gives prenuptial agreements a bad name.
Prenuptial agreements are binding legal contracts between couples who choose to sign a legal agreement about their assets before they walk down the aisle. Contrary to popular misconception, these documents do not protect one person in the marriage against a predatory spouse. In reality, they protect both spouses by clearly outlining the rights and responsibilities of each spouse in the marriage. A prenup also puts a well-defined structure in place for the distribution of assets in the event of divorce.
While any married couple can benefit from a prenuptial agreement, they are particularly beneficial for couples who go into a marriage with significant assets, own businesses, stand to inherit property, or have children from previous marriages. They’re also helpful for spouses with a significant disparity in income or assets, or when one spouse is much older than the other and close to retirement.
A well-executed prenuptial agreement clearly defines each spouse’s separate property to prevent accidental commingling of assets during the marriage. It may also outline one spouse’s debt as their separate debt so their spouse cannot be held accountable for the debt in the event of a divorce or death.
A prenuptial agreement typically includes the following:
One significant advantage of a prenuptial agreement is that it’s comprised and signed while both parties are on good terms with each other, so the agreements legally protect the best interests of both spouses. Prenups provide much better outcomes after a divorce than contentious court battles and cost far less.
In order for the courts to consider a prenup valid and enforceable, it must be written and voluntarily signed before the marriage, and only after full financial disclosures from both parties. It must contain the signatures of both spouses and cannot be egregiously unfair to one party. A prenuptial agreement only becomes valid and enforceable after the spouses legally marry.