What Makes a Strong, Valid Prenup in Pennsylvania?

prenup agreement

If you have children from a previous relationship, own a share in the family business, or just want to make sure you and your spouse are treated fairly in divorce, you might be considering a prenuptial agreement. However, not all marital agreements are treated equally by the Pennsylvania divorce courts. Make certain you have a strong, valid prenup agreement by working with an attorney who knows how to draft these agreements to hold up in court.

What is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement -- called an antenuptial agreement in Pennsylvania -- is a written agreement between future spouses covering various aspects of their life together, and what should happen when they die or get divorced. Pennsylvania has laws that control issues like:

  • Spousal inheritance
  • Property division in divorce
  • Spousal support and alimony

However, no law can apply perfectly to every family situation. When the standard rules may create an unfair or unintended result, an antenuptial agreement can change those default rules. This allows spouses to agree on what they want to happen in death or divorce. The experienced estate planning and family law attorneys at Berman & Associates can help you understand how intestacy and divorce law works and what to include in your antenuptial agreement to truly honor your wishes and protect your family.

What an Antenuptial Agreement Means for High-Net Worth Families

Historically, prenup agreements have had a poor reputation as tools used by rich men (usually) to keep dependent wives from “getting their hands on” their husbands’ wealth. However, a strong prenup agreement can protect both spouses, and make sure that each receives what is fair. It can also keep a future divorce from causing disruption in the family business by triggering buy-back provisions or moving ownership outside the family.

The larger and more complicated your assets are going into a marriage, the more you might benefit from signing an antenuptial agreement before your wedding day. Depending on your family’s intentions, a prenuptial agreement can:

  • Lay out family expectations about how household bills will be paid
  • Provide for a stay-at-home spouse during and after the marriage
  • Identify assets as separate property, shielding them from division by the divorce court
  • Allow parents to shelter assets to award to their children from another relationship, rather than passing them to their spouse upon death

Negotiating and signing a prenup agreement before your marriage can drastically reduce the complexity of any future divorce. While divorce court is public, the terms of the prenuptial agreement are drafted privately. They can also include arbitration and confidentiality provisions to further protect your family’s privacy if the marriage fails. Our attorneys can help you review your financial situation and determine if a prenuptial agreement is needed to protect yourself or your assets.

What Makes a Prenup Valid

An antenuptial agreement can waive a spouse’s right to property accumulated during the marriage, alimony and spousal support in divorce, and spousal benefits in death. Because of this, the Pennsylvania courts want to be certain the parties understand what they are agreeing to before they sign. If a party challenges the prenuptial agreement’s validity in a divorce or estate administration, the Court will examine the details of how it was created. To be valid, a prenup agreement must:

  • Be in writing
  • Be signed by both spouses and notarized
  • Have been signed prior to the marriage (the earlier the better)
  • Include a statement of assets for each party including their estimated net worth, tax, and salary information
  • Be free from fraud or duress
  • State that the parties understood and accepted the terms of the agreement and signed voluntarily
  • Allow both parties to consult with their own attorneys and negotiate and make changes to the document
  • Be fair and not “unconscionable” (This doesn’t mean assets must be divided equally, but neither spouse can be left destitute.)

The goal of a prenup agreement is to negotiate how the financial portions of divorce will be handled while everyone still has one another’s best interests in mind. However, a valid prenuptial agreement cannot dictate issues of child custody, visitation, or child support. If you have received a draft prenuptial agreement, our attorneys can review that document with you and help you negotiate a fair resolution in the event of divorce.

How Do I Make a Prenuptial Agreement

The strongest prenups are the ones fully negotiated between parties with equal bargaining power, well before the marriage. If you want to make a prenuptial agreement that will hold up in a Pennsylvania divorce court:

  1. Talk to your fiance early in your engagement about both of your thoughts and expectations
  2. Hire an attorney to prepare a draft prenuptial agreement
  3. Be sure your proposal protects both spouses and leaves them with enough to live on
  4. Encourage your partner to hire their own attorney to review the document (it is better if you do not speak to or pay for your partner’s attorney directly)
  5. Leave space to negotiate the details of your agreement
  6. Work with your attorney to have a formal prenuptial agreement signing with a notary present
  7. Keep physical and digital copies of your prenuptial agreement someplace safe
  8. Make sure your estate planning matches your prenuptial agreement after you get married

Get Help to Write a Strong, Valid Prenup

At Berman Law, we understand that wealthy and blended families sometimes don’t fit standard divorce and inheritance models. Our experienced Pennsylvania family law and estate planning attorneys want to help you tailor your family’s protections through a carefully drafted and executed prenuptial agreement. If you are seeking to protect your family’s assets or shield your children’s inheritance, we can help you prepare a strong, valid prenup that will stand up to court challenges. We welcome you to contact us to set up an interview to discuss your financial situation and negotiate an agreement that protects your whole family.

Categories: Divorce, Family Law