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prenup seeds

Many people who sign a prenuptial agreement, then divorce later on, say that during the marriage the prenup made them feel they were never on an even playing field financially. A prenup can cause resentment and suspicion that your spouse is not committed to making the marriage a true partnership. Or that he or she is more concerned about keeping money separate than creating marital property and building your marriage. Instead of creating financial stability, a prenup can drive a wedge between a couple, displaying one person’s protective and secretive attitude about his or her separate property, and making the other person feel threatened by such behavior. Conflict develops and the seeds of divorce are sown.

Sometimes one person is quite motivated to sign a prenuptial agreement, but the other is not as enthusiastic, or even reluctant or opposed to the idea. But once the subject is raised, and especially if one person insists that a prenup is necessary, the reluctant fiance faces a dilemma: Will our engagement end if I say no? Will my fiance cancel the wedding if I refuse to sign?

Sometimes the person pushing for a prenuptial agreement hires a combative attorney whose first draft is complicated and unfair. For the best outcome, you each need an attorney who will stand up for you, but work cooperatively with the other attorney. You need to feel like an equal partner for the marriage to succeed.

Financially lopsided from the beginning

It is important not to be coerced into signing a prenup. If you sign a prenup under duress and coercion, you may have a basis for challenging the agreement in court later on. In fact, if one party has an attorney and the other signs without consulting a lawyer, a court could overturn a prenuptial agreement in the future. This is especially true if the agreement is drafted and signed close to the wedding date.

Not everyone getting married enters into a prenuptial agreement, or prenup, but many do. The reasons vary, but most often it comes down to this: one spouse (or his or her parents) has significant assets entering the marriage and wants to preserve it as separate property during the marriage.

A fine line between coercion and reluctant consent

Pressure to sign a prenuptial agreement can be subtle. Sometimes the person who is not pushing for a prenup wants to please his or her fiance by finalizing and signing it quickly, without carefully considering how the terms could affect him or her in the future. If this is you, you may feel at a disadvantage in the negotiation process—that you have no right to challenge how your fiance wants to handle his or her own money. But remember that all money earned during the marriage is marital—and therefore belongs to both of you. If you are the spouse who earns less, or may spend time at home caring for children, you may need spousal support if you divorce. A new study shows that most women who have children when they are 25 to 35 years old never recover from the pay gap that results with their husbands, even women who earn more than their husbands when they get married. With these concerns, you should not waive support (also called maintenance or alimony) in your prenup, even if you earn enough money to live on right now.

Despite all this, under the right circumstances a prenup can be a useful, even positive, document for a married couple. Here are some guidelines:

I’m sorry that your feelings are hurt, but I am far more concerned that your son may be disappointed by a turnout of one. Augment the guest list ASAP with friends from school or other activities, then do your best to make the party a blast.

We planned a small outdoor party for our young son and sent invitations to his neighborhood friends two weeks ago. Only two people responded: One said yes; the other said no. I’ve reached out to the parents of the other kids to see if they can come, but no responses. And the party is three days away. Should I cancel, reschedule or have the best time ever with one friend who said yes? I’m so hurt! Why don’t people RSVP?

My advice: Put her mail in her bedroom. Or if you want to keep setting it on the kitchen counter, ask her nicely not to leave it in your shared space for long. I suspect you will do better with the first approach, though; people have varying tolerance for clutter.

An older sister wonders how to talk to her sibling about premarital agreements.

About That Stack of Mail …

The fact that you and your partner choose not to marry, but would definitely sign a prenuptial agreement if you did, is an excellent argument for your doing exactly that. It has little bearing, though, on what your brother should do. I get that you’re being protective (and a little controlling). Still, 25 is not a child, and they’ve been dating for six years!

Send any friend a story

My boyfriend and I are going to an outdoor costume party on Halloween. The other day, I came downstairs and said, “I know what I’ll go as!” Then he said, “Let me guess: a sexy nurse?” He was right, but I found his tone extremely condescending. Do you think I have a right to be upset about this? My boyfriend refuses to see why I might be.

My Costume Is Predictable. So What?

My roommate and I share a mailbox. She rarely checks it. I check it two or three times a week, which I don’t mind doing. I set her stack of mail on the kitchen counter, but days later, it’s still there, untouched. Would it be OK for me to start recycling her mail if she doesn’t open it within five days? I dislike clutter, and I don’t think it’s my responsibility to remind her about it.

For all your strong opinions, and your tone-deaf suggestion that the girlfriend’s “extreme social anxiety” is an inconvenience for your family, you’ve left out most of the pertinent facts here: Does your brother or his girlfriend have any large assets or debts? Does one of them earn markedly more than the other? Do they live in a community property state?