Do I Need a Pre-Nup?

You need a pre-nup because you need to talk about money.

The honeymoon is definitely over when you suddenly learn that your spouse is saddled with debt, or that they have a dramatically different idea about how your paycheck should be spent.  Having a full and frank discussion with your intended about the current state of your finances, as well as your spending habits, financial goals, and your general attitudes about money is essential before saying "I do."  In fact, it can even strengthen your relationship.  In one recent survey, 90 percent of couples that described themselves as in a happy relationship talk about money at least once a month.  Conversely, only 68 percent of unhappy couples talk about money this often.  Another study found that 31 percent of couples argue about money at least once a month- Yikes!

Engaging an attorney to draft a pre-nuptual agreement is a fantastic way to stimulate and guide such a discussion, and can lead to peace of mind. This is true whether you've already built a nest egg or are just getting started.  That process will give you a safe space to make disclosures, as well as a timetable for having those potentially-difficult discussions.

It's okay if you have a very different attitude about money than your betrothed.  Just use the time and the experience of drafting a pre-nup to work out a game plan for your future financial life together.  Honoring financial agreements that you make now will strengthen the trust and bond between you and your spouse in the years to come.

How to make the most of your first consultation

     The first step in any case is consulting with a knowledgeable attorney who can evaluate your case and develop a strategy tailored to your unique issues and concerns.  Many attorneys charge a fee for the initial consultation, so it's important that you come prepared to get the most value for your money.  Generally, the purposes of the initial consultation are 1) to help the attorney gain a basic understanding of the facts of your case, and to determine what your goals are,  2) to learn up front if there are any "red flags" in your case, and 3) to decide if you and that attorney are a "good fit."  But how do you make all that happen in about an hour?

What are the facts?  

     While it is normal to be emotional when discussing your case, especially in a family law matter, you will get the most value out of your time with the attorney if you are able to succinctly state the important facts in a manner that is easy to understand.  

     You'd be surprised how many people struggle with communicating in a linear manner, but that's the best way to convey facts to someone who's never heard your story before.  Remember the basic principle of "start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop."  Before the consultation, it's a good idea to prepare a timeline of events in your case.  During this process, think about what facts may be important from a legal perspective, versus the facts that are important to you from a purely emotional perspective.  

     Typically in a divorce matter, you should be able to readily address the following questions:

  • What are your most immediate concerns for your property?  Despite the fact that a divorce is underway, there are still bills that need to be paid timely and property that must be maintained.  Being able to discuss in detail all of your household expenses, as well as each source of income, will greatly assist the attorney in protecting your estate.  

     Through a formal agreement or temporary orders, the attorney can address these pressing issues.  Examples of some common issues in a divorce are:

  • Does one spouse need to move out of the marital residence?  If so, what property can they take with them?
  • How will the mortgage, utilities, and other shared bills get paid while the divorce is pending?
  • Where are your paychecks deposited, and who has access to those accounts?
  • What should happen to funds in your joint bank accounts?
  • What do you consider reasonable spending during the divorce proceeding?
  • Do you have any large expenses that need to be addressed while the divorce is still pending?

  • What is in the community estate, and how do you believe it should be divided?   While you may not get into extensive detail about property in the initial consultation, it is helpful to inform the attorney of the general extent of your community and separate estates, as well as any special concerns you have.  Some examples include:

  • Are you worried your spouse is hiding money or other assets?
  • Will you need financial support after the divorce is final?
  • Did you or your spouse own property before your marriage?
  • Did you or your spouse inherit property during the marriage?
  • Did you purchase property with separate funds during the marriage?
  • Are there any items of sentimental value that you'd especially like to be awarded to you?

   For divorces with children and child custody matters, you will need to address the following:

  • What are your most immediate concerns for your children?  Sadly, children are all too often the victims of abuse or neglect.  Sometimes a parent or care-giver is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, which poses a myriad of risks to children.  In many cases, parental conflict is adversely affecting the children and must be addressed through counseling or other therapies.  If a child is in immediate physical or emotional danger, a court can intervene to protect them.  An experienced attorney will know how to seek emergency orders to protect children who are at risk.

  • What are your ultimate goals for your children?  These are things like where you believe it is best for your children to live and attend school, what kind of possession schedule you believe is appropriate, and how your children should be supported financially.  

     Be sure to inform the attorney of any special issues that may apply to your case.  Examples include:

  • Your children have not lived in Texas for the past six months
  • You and/or your spouse are members of the military subject to PCS or deployment
  • You and the other parent reside in different cities, states, or countries
  • Your child has special needs requiring long-term care

Manage your expectations

     If you have been referred to an attorney by a friend or family member, don't expect to have the exact same result in your case as they got.  Remember that your case is different from whoever referred you.  

      If you have expectations for your case that the attorney does not believe are realistic or achievable, don't get upset or argue with them.  It may be that you need to regroup and accept a different strategy or goal for your case. If you're truly not satisfied, remember that there are plenty of attorneys out there, and you're always welcome to get a second opinion.  Don't set yourself up to be disappointed if you and the attorney are on different pages from day one. 

How much will this cost?

     You should be prepared to discuss the attorney's fee for the case.  If you realize that paying the attorney for their work is beyond your means, be honest with yourself and don't sign a contract.  It's better to look for an attorney you can afford at the first stage of your case, rather than hiring an attorney who will soon withdraw due to non-payment.  

Are we a "good fit"

     During the initial consultation, you should be thinking about how well you might work with the attorney.  This is a professional relationship in which both sides are trusting and relying on one another to get the best ultimate result.  It's best to know up front if there are any differences of personality or communication style that may impede the working relationship.  For example, maybe you expect compassion and sympathy, but the attorney is all business.  That doesn't mean they're a bad attorney, it just means that maybe you're not a "good fit."  If that's the case, you may have a more satisfying experience by looking elsewhere.