Prenuptial Agreements: Divorce Planning or Collaborative Marriage Planning?

Prenuptial agreements have been around for quite some time in Florida.  They are an agreement between people who are about to wed in which the parties set out their rights and responsibilities in a written document that is executed in front of a notary and two witnesses.  Prenuptial agreements are oftentimes thought of as “divorce planning” so as to avoid a future nasty court battle, should the parties’ marriage not work out.

But who wants to plan a divorce, especially when you are not even done making the wedding plans?

There is an alternative.  It is a new process known as Collaborative Marriage Planning.

Collaborative Marriage Planning focuses not on the lifestyle of the parties in the event of divorce, but on how they want to live their lives during the marriage.  It is a process that fosters transparency and full financial and emotional disclosure between the parties, while offering a private legal framework to handle disputes that may arise.

In the process, each party is represented by their own collaborative attorney whose sole purpose is to help them reach an understanding.  Unlike many traditional prenuptial lawyers, the attorneys do not attempt to negotiate to “maximize” his or her own client’s piece of the pie at the expense of the other client; rather, each lawyer focuses on his or her client’s interests and helps develop options which satisfy both parties’ needs.

Oftentimes, when clients are getting married, they are giddy and full of tremendous joy, and yet they are afraid to bring up issues that may be important to them so they do not offend their fiancé.  It is for this reason that Collaborative Marriage Planning also includes a neutral facilitator, who is generally a licensed mental health professional.  The neutral facilitator ensures that tough issues are addressed, both fiancés voices are heard during the meetings, and that all discussions remain constructive and respectful.  As a bonus, the neutral facilitator will teach clients dispute resolution skills that can help promote long and happy marriages.

One of the most important aspects of prenuptial agreements, whether through the traditional method or via Collaborative Marriage Planning, is full financial disclosure between the parties.  In the traditional prenuptial process, this is because one of the biggest reasons why prenuptial agreements are thrown out by a judge during divorce is that one or both parties did not have an understanding of the other’s finances when they signed it.  In Collaborative Marriage Planning, full financial disclosure is equally important, if not more so, as it spurs those difficult conversations about how fiancés want to handle their finances during married life.

A neutral financial professional, generally a collaboratively-trained accountant or financial planner, is retained to aid in this disclosure.  The financial professional serves as a central repository for documents (such as tax returns, checking and savings account statements, retirement statements, investment portfolios, deeds to real estate, etc.) and will review and help clients understand these documents and their options much more quickly (and less expensively) than either of the parties’ attorneys.  Depending on the parties’ needs, the financial professional will help with tax planning, business formation, or retirement and investment planning.  The financial professional can also help the parties to prepare household budgets to meet their goals.  Moreover, the financial professional will contribute to the discussion of whether and how the parties will want separate and/or joint accounts during married life and how to strike the right balance of interdependence and financial independence.

Collaborative Premarital Agreements can ultimately end up serving the same purpose as traditional prenuptial agreements, and address issues such as spousal support and the division of property in the event of divorce.  However, this will be a byproduct, and not the main focus, of Collaborative Marriage Planning.

If you are engaged and would like to participate in a process with your fiancé that will protect one another, spur difficult but necessary conversations, and focus on marriage planning rather than divorce planning, you and your fiancé should consider the Collaborative Marriage Planning Option.

If you have questions about Collaborative Marriage Planning and would like to schedule a consultation with a Florida collaborative attorney, contact The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

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