My fiancée and I have recently started discussing a prenuptial agreement. I earn about $75,000 a year and have a net worth around $800,000. She has student loans and her income is about half mine. She recently completed a bachelor’s degree and is looking for a better job. She would be moving into a home that I own. I have about $80,000 left to pay on the mortgage, which would continue to be paid from my salary.
I would prefer a prenuptial agreement that specifies that each of us retains control and ownership of assets we currently own, plus income we receive while married, unless we chose to put money into a joint account or title property jointly, in which case it would be split 50/50 in the event of divorce.
I would prefer a prenup that specifies that each of us retains control and ownership of assets we currently own, plus income we receive while married
She would like a clause that states I will purchase a modest second home titled in her name only, that we would use as rental property, but which would remain hers in the event of divorce. We are both in our late 40s. We have both been married and divorced previously, and she has an adult daughter.
I understand the idea of her not wanting to start from scratch, house-wise, in the event of divorce. But this feels like the potential economic benefits of marriage can only go in one direction. She receives free housing during the marriage and, if we divorce, she continues to receive free housing for life. Is it reasonable for someone to ask for a house as a condition of marriage or of a prenuptial which protects my other assets?
Am I totally out of line to consider this request a potential deal-breaker? Is there some elegant compromise that would give her security regarding possible future outcomes regarding housing that doesn’t involve me purchasing a second house?
Don in Maryland
Buying a home for your wife is certainly an odd first request when getting married, especially when it’s a home that will be in her name only. You did well to buy a home and pay off the lion’s share of your mortgage. Why on earth would you (a) get yourself into more debt because your future wife would like to have somewhere to live in the event that you divorce and (b) buy a home in her name only? I would say the same thing if it was a man requesting his future wife buy him a home. Whatever way you pitch this, it doesn’t make a bit of sense. If your fiancée wants a second home, I believe she should buy one — with her own money.
Why on earth would you get yourself into more debt because your future wife would like to have somewhere to live in the event that you divorce?
You’re wise to get a prenuptial agreement, especially given this quite large request. You do not live in a community (or marital) property state. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington treat all marital assets as community or marital property, meaning assets acquired during the marriage are divided equally when a couple divorces. In other “equitable distribution” states, such as yours, assets are divided based on a variety of factors, including the income of each party at the time of marriage, duration of the marriage, loss of benefits, needs of the custodial parent and probable future financial circumstances.
In Maryland, a divorce court would likely divide the assets based on what is fair and equitable. But the point of a prenuptial agreement is to separate assets that you had before getting married, rather than deciding that it’s fair for one spouse to receive a home that the other spouse pays for. Call me old-fashioned, but that doesn’t sound fair or equitable to me. “It sort of sounds like your fiancée wants to be compensated just for getting married,” says Randy Kessler, an Atlanta-based lawyer who wrote the book, “Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids, and Your Future.” “While she certainly is giving up her single life, so are you.”
I have one very large caveat: The Moneyologist only ever hears one side of the story. That’s the nature of advice columns. I hear your side and search for clues, like Jessica Fletcher (without the cardigan and place in Cabot Cove). You are both taking a very transactional approach to this marriage, perhaps because you were married before. Your future wife earns far less than you and it sounds like you raised the issue of a prenuptial agreement. She asked you to buy her a house and you say she will receive “free housing” during her marriage. Neither of those statements fills me with confidence.
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That said, you have obviously scrimped and saved to pay off a mortgage and invested well to have a net worth of $800,000 on a salary of $75,000. You have many compromises available. You could agree to help your fiancée purchase a house that takes into account her current and future earnings. Or, Kessler suggests, you could agree to give your fiancée a sum of money for each year of marriage. That’s not uncommon when one spouse is wealthier than the other. In this case, you’re financially secure and well prepared for retirement, but you’re no Michael Douglas. Agreeing to a fixed sum comes with risks, too. What if you become ill and/or lose your money?
You need to know where to draw the line in the sand, and now what you are willing to give up. It’s not unusual or unfair to say, “I would like to exit this marriage with X amount of assets, and that includes my house.” No one gets married with the idea that they will get divorced, but you and your fiancée have been down that road already and studies show that second marriages are more likely to end in divorce. Kessler, the divorce lawyer, has seen more of these than the Moneyologist. “Wouldn’t she marry you if you were broke?” he says. “Alarm bells would go off to me and to most people if my fiancée said I won’t marry you unless you buy me a house.”
When alarm bells go off with a divorce lawyer, especially when you are paying him by the hour, you should listen.
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