Love & hon­our

When you’re plan­ning a wed­ding, prenup­tials may sound un­ro­man­tic but they are of­ten plain com­mon­sense. By Linda Drum­mond.

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - Cover -

When we’re get­ting mar­ried we can spend months, or even years, plan­ning the per­fect wed­ding. Co­or­di­nat­ing colours, choos­ing the mu­sic, se­lect­ing flow­ers, writ­ing per­son­alised vows… but how many of us spend that much time plan­ning our mar­riage? Af­ter all, a wed­ding lasts a day, but a mar­riage aims to be till death do us part. Sta­tis­tics re­veal that one in two mar­riages will end in di­vorce, and while we all go into mar­riage hop­ing ours won’t be one of them, some­times a lit­tle prepa­ra­tion can help. We’re mar­ry­ing later than ever be­fore. Th­ese days the av­er­age age of mar­riage for men is 31 and for women 29, whereas in 1982 men were a mere 26, and women just 23 when they tied the knot.

This means that for many of us, we’ve got a lot more in­di­vid­ual as­sets than our par­ents had be­fore they mar­ried last cen­tury. But does sign­ing a pre-nup mean you’re ef­fec­tively sign­ing an ex­pec­ta­tion that you’re go­ing to end up as one of the one in two cou­ples not mak­ing it to the death bit? No, says Jackie Vin­cent, an ac­cred­ited fam­ily law spe­cial­ist.

“A prenup­tial agree­ment is all about plan­ning for the fu­ture and the un­knowns that the fu­ture holds for us,” she says. Vin­cent, who’s a part­ner with Watts McCray lawyers in Syd­ney, says that pre-nups “are cer­tainly for peo­ple who have some­thing to pro­tect – some­thing that they’ve worked for.” In­deed she says that for some peo­ple, they are vi­tal. “Any­one in a sec­ond or third re­la­tion­ship should be pre­pared to think about it,” Vin­cent says. “If you’ve been through one nasty fam­ily court bat­tle, keep­ing your­self out of that is the most im­por­tant thing.”

Get smart

Pre-nups aren’t just for mar­ried cou­ples. De facto cou­ples (gay and straight) can sign a co-habi­ta­tion agree­ment (gov­erned by state law) pro­tect­ing any fi­nan­cial as­sets be­fore mov­ing in to­gether.

Pre-nup­tial agree­ments be­came legally bind­ing in Aus­tralia in 2000, but most peo­ple still have no real idea who should sign one. Some peo­ple see them as typ­i­cally Amer­i­can – some­thing big stars do (or should do, Paul McCart­ney) – but not for your av­er­age Aussie. There’s the ro­man­tic view, and then there’s the prac­ti­cal view that looks at a pre-nup as a form of in­sur­ance (you hope you’re never go­ing to write your car off, but if it hap­pens, you’re cov­ered).

Sit­ting down to­gether and dis­cussing your fi­nances can help an­chor a re­la­tion­ship, Vin­cent adds. “You don’t have to sign any­thing be­fore the mar­riage, you can have the ro­man­tic times first and then get down

to the nitty gritty,” she says. Philip John­son is a re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist at Choos­ing Change in Syd­ney’s CBD and says that for a lot of peo­ple, even with ex­pert project man­age­ment of their mar­riage, there are cer­tain things that keep com­ing up – par­tic­u­larly mone­tary is­sues.

“I rec­om­mend that peo­ple have both a joint ac­count and their own ac­count,” he says. “If you have to ask per­mis­sion or feel ob­li­gated to ask your part­ner for money it can lead to is­sues. There needs to be an un­der­stand­ing of in­de­pen­dence, fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally.”

This point is re­it­er­ated by Kris­ten Boschma from Veda Ad­van­tage, a com­pany that fa­cil­i­tates credit checks for Aus­tralia’s ma­jor banks and lenders. “Love may be blind, but fi­nan­cial re­la­tion­ships are best en­tered into with eyes wide open,” she says. “What goes on your credit re­port has se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the fu­ture.” Boschma rec­om­mends that any cou­ple plan­ning to live to­gether, whether in a de facto re­la­tion­ship or mar­riage, needs to sit down first and go over its fi­nan­cial plans. “It sounds bor­ing, but it’s im­por­tant,” she says.

Be in­formed

All the ex­perts body+soul spoke to rec­om­mend that cou­ples sit down and dis­cuss their fi­nances and ex­pec­ta­tions of the re­la­tion­ship be­fore com­mit­ting to mar­riage or liv­ing to­gether.

“A cou­ple of ses­sions prior to the wed­ding gives them an enor­mous amount of in­for­ma­tion to go on with,” John­son says. “There will al­ways be prob­lems in a re­la­tion­ship, but if you’ve sat down be­fore­hand and have gone through all the big is­sues, it can help you see the most ef­fec­tive way of do­ing things.”

For some peo­ple, rais­ing the is­sue of prenup­tials ap­pears to sig­nify a lack of trust, but John­son says peo­ple still need to pro­tect their as­sets and their sense of self.

“When some­one comes into your life, you hope they add some­thing to it, but it’s im­por­tant to re­alise that you’re still in­de­pen­dent peo­ple. You need to be sure that you’re go­ing to be okay for the rest of your life. Hope­fully your part­ner will be there with you, but if they’re not, you still need to be sure you’re pro­tected.”

It’s not just the mone­tary as­pect that’s cov­ered by a pre-nup. They can cover lifestyle is­sues such as how many chil­dren you wish to have as well. “I had one cou­ple whose pre-nup cov­ered a real di­vi­sion of labour: whose job was whose, down to putting out the rub­bish,” John­son says.

Vin­cent adds that the lifestyle as­pects of a pre-nup (un­like the fi­nan­cial side), are not bind­ing, how­ever: “It’s an op­por­tu­nity to talk about the hard ques­tions and help your part­ner un­der­stand where you’re com­ing from.” A fam­ily lawyer is the per­son to go to to find out how it would work for you, Vin­cent says. To find a fam­ily lawyer to suit your sit­u­a­tion, ei­ther ask the Law So­ci­ety (which has a list of fam­ily lawyers), look in the Yel­low Pages or go on­line. You won’t be the only one. Watts McCray dealt with around 20 to 30 pre-nups in the past year, and Vin­cent says they are on the in­crease with a large num­ber of peo­ple en­quir­ing about pre-nups and whether they may be suit­able for their re­la­tion­ship.

“When our heart is over­taken with pas­sion and joy, some­times we may not see things clearly,” John­son says. A pre-nup mightn’t be the most ro­man­tic thing you do in the re­la­tion­ship – but it could be one of the smartest.”

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