What is a Prenuptial Agreement?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A prenuptial agreement, often shortened to "prenup," is a legal agreement entered into by an engaged couple prior to being married. It provides for an agreed upon distribution of assets if the marriage ends in divorce. A similar agreement called a postnuptial agreement is signed after a couple is already married. Domestic partners may also have a cohabitation agreement.

A notary public must witness the signing of a prenuptial agreement.
A notary public must witness the signing of a prenuptial agreement.

A prenuptial agreement often has what is called a "sunset" clause. This usually means that that it becomes invalid after a certain specified time period, or after the married couple has had a child. Sunset clauses vary from state to state. If the sunset clause is ignored, the agreement is void. Some couples then construct a postnuptial agreement to change the terms of their marital agreement.

Prenuptial agreements should be read over carefully to make sure everything is clearly outlined before signing.
Prenuptial agreements should be read over carefully to make sure everything is clearly outlined before signing.

In the US, prenuptial agreements must meet five requirements to be binding. They must be written: oral prenups are not allowed. The signing of the agreement must be voluntary on behalf of both parties, and must occur before a notary. It can be invalid if one partner fails to disclose something important, and marries under false pretenses. Lastly, the agreement cannot be morally or ethically unconscionable.

Prenuptial agreements specify how a couple's assets, like vehicles, homes, or savings accounts, are to be divided after a divorce.
Prenuptial agreements specify how a couple's assets, like vehicles, homes, or savings accounts, are to be divided after a divorce.

Some people and some religions find the prenuptial agreement morally repugnant. It is a statement that allows for the possibility of divorce, and considers what to do in the event of a divorce. Couples may not want to consider how their marriage will end when they intend to be married for life. Churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, don’t ban these types of agreements but certainly do frown upon them. Since a marriage is a lifetime binding commitment and sacrament to the Catholic Church, a prenup simply doesn’t make sense and appears to contradict church teachings.

When couples marry and each have significant assets, a prenuptial agreement may be beneficial in keeping those assets divided in the event of the dissolution of the marriage. Couples who have children from previous marriages may also want to use one in order to protect assets for their children. In Hollywood, and among the wealthy, these contracts are fairly standard fare.

Some are amazed by the provisions included in Hollywood prenuptial agreements. They may specify the minimum number of times in which the couple must engage in intercourse, often called the bedroom clause. They may also have agreements about the wife or husband, maintaining a certain weight or appearance, and agreements about the number of children that will be allowed.

A Hollywood prenuptial agreement might, as well, have an increase in payout to a spouse if the other spouse commits adultery. These terms seem to fly in the face of the “until death do we part,” bit of the marriage ceremony. However, given the short lifespan of some celebrity marriages, a prenup seems to make good economic sense.

Depending upon the type of cntract, some may be contested during a divorce. Changing circumstances may make for different allocations of spousal or child support if a marriage ends. Most lawyers who specialize in these contracts try to make “airtight” prenups to protect their clients. However, many contentious divorces also include challenges of prenuptial agreements.

Prenuptial agreements may be frowned upon by couples who belong to religions that do not allow divorce.
Prenuptial agreements may be frowned upon by couples who belong to religions that do not allow divorce.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Does my signed house deed override the prenup?


@Post 14: I personally think you are looking for money, here. Ask yourself: Did I, in any way, contribute anything to his financial success? If the answer is no, then why do you deserve 30 percent of it? Why do you even deserve 1 percent?

Is it because he wants to adopt your son? Then ask yourself again, does he take care of your son and is there mutual love between them? If yes, then it's only fair your husband becomes his father.

If you are so concerned about your son's custody, you could simply ask him to sign a post-nup stating that he would relinquish all rights to your son in the event of a divorce. Simple.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with a prenuptial agreement. This is coming from a male point of view and I have to say that seeing women marry men, cheat on them, and then walk away with almost everything they've ever earned is absolutely disgusting. Why should I work hard (I put myself through college and have a wonderful, high-paying job) and continue to work hard to put food on the table, maintain a wonderful home and lifestyle for myself and my wife (kids possibly) only to have her cheat and then "take me to the cleaners," so she can run to her boy-toy and say, "Look how much money I have because I divorced that idiot of mine."

It's disgusting how some women have been raised to think they can do whatever they want and no matter what, still benefit from it. I'm not sexist, but I watched my father fall apart after my mother did this to him and it was an experience I told myself I would never put myself through. My mother admits to doing this, but she justifies every action like my father was responsible for her breaking his heart, taking everything, then leaving me with him so that she wouldn't have to worry about paying for me.

A pre-nup is just an agreement saying, "You give me some trust... and I'll give you some trust."


Help! I have been with my husband for 10 years, and the first six years we lived with his 92 year old father. We were never able to enjoy our honeymoon years because his father was a constant chore in our life. I was responsible for his meals, doctors' appointments and much more.

As the years went on, he became more and more unhealthy. The last three years of his life we had to hire professional nurses as he became incompetent and was suffering from dementia. Needless to say, by this time I was a frazzled mess, always worrying and feeling somewhat trapped. There were several times that I explained to my husband that he needed to be in a home where they could look after him 24/7 but that was out of the question for my husband.

Sadly, my father-in-law contracted MRSA and that is when I drew the line. I explained to my husband that I would not expose my five year old son or myself to such a dangerous disease. He finally agreed to place his father in a home until he became healthy. My father-in-law was much sicker than we thought and he passed away shortly after.

My husband and I had a prenuptial agreement before we got married but now he wants to legally adopt my only son and I feel as if I agree to him being my son's legal guardian, then he should agree to change our prenuptial agreement. He owns an apartment building in Pasadena California. These apartments support our lifestyle and provide a substantial amount of money to cover all of our bills.

I explained to my husband that if I were to allow him to be my son's legal guardian, then I thought it would be fair to make me 30 percent owner of said apartments. At first he was fine with this idea, but now he is totally against it. He is trying to make me out to be all about the money, but I feel it is only fair.

If we were to divorce, he could fight me for custody of my son and he would have no change in his lifestyle, because the apartments are 100 percent in his name. I am only asking for 30 percent, so that I too, would be able to support the lifestyle that I have become used to. Please help me with your thoughts on this subject.


I married a man nine years ago and signed a prenup two days before the wedding. He said it was to protect our assets for our children. I did not have time to see an attorney and I signed it. Little did I know, until recently, that I will get absolutely nothing when he dies. Never, ever sign anything unless you see a lawyer first!


I got married to a russian woman. I did not want to offend her by asking to sign a prenup. I brought her into the UK and now after she got the legal right to stay in UK, she wants to file for a divorce. The house is in my own name. I have two children from my previous. I'd like to know (i) Do i need to sell my house if we get divorced? (ii) Since i bought the house well before i got married to her, do I still have to share the equity made from the sale of the house? (iii) How much, percentage wise, do i need to share with her?


Terms in a prenup regarding how many times your wife engages in sexual intercourse a week or maintaining her weight and appearance. I am utterly disgusted. It's clear that a man wrote this article. Listen up wiseGEEK: if you aren't or are now divorced, there's a reason. And it's stated within this post. 'Bout time you "wised" up and remember that there is such a thing as romance and that mystery was never a bad thing. After all, it's mystery and romance that kick off a hot relationship in the beginning!

No. 7 - by the way, it's time you started trusting women again. Not all of them go shopping with the so called "hard earned" money that you, "Spouse A" made!


I've been married. I've been divorced. Let me tell you: you need to make a prenup before you get married. Look, nobody gets married thinking that they'll be the ones getting a divorce, I certainly didn't, but over 50 percent of us do. And when it happens to you, that sweet, loving person will conveniently forget all the things that she swore she'd do, back before she got tired of you.

Don't be stupid, get the damn prenup. It may be tough to bring up, but any woman who has a problem with signing one before hand is simply showing you her true colors sooner than she'd planned.

Also: in answer to #3: have you written in what you'll do if the house loses money? They go both ways, you know.


I think prenuptials are fine. A single accomplished woman need one especially when she has children and the significant other has them too; to ensure that her children get what they deserve and when the significant other does not have any assets of value. --kzrf


@No.4 - Prenups cannot dictate child custody or child support.

@No.5 - Spoken truly by someone with no assets. Greed is wanting to take something that wasn't yours or something that you did not earn, not in trying to protect something you did.

Too many individuals (I won't say women) want a free ride. I'm sorry, but if Spouse A worked their butt off to amass a fortune and Spouse B just shopped their whole life and had nothing, then Spouse B shouldn't be able to walk away with half of something that they would never have had in the first place.


Number 5 sounds like she hates her husband for it and is being a woman about it. Take the sand out and respect him for protecting you and himself.


Making your fiance sign a prenup is absolutely wrong and will do nothing more than cause resentment in the marriage. Particularly when the fiance has little or no assets. I think they stink and are all about greed.


I signed the prenup before getting married to my husband. By that time i was pregnant, totally stressed and wasn't thinking. So, if i have my baby and want to separate, will i get the full custody of my daughter and child support or will my husband have more power to take my child? We don't have divorce here, only separate... thanks


I am about to enter into a prenup agreement. I added my fiance to my deed on my house while we were living together when I had some health issues, we are now getting married and my health is good. I would like to put in my prenup that in the event of a divorce that I get the house and she will get a portion of increased value. She is fine with that, however, since her name is on deed will the prenup be enforceable? Does anyone know? My appointment with my attorney is not for a week.



Is the prenuptial agreement signed outside the United States valid? For example, a Filipina and American signed prenup in the Philippines prior to celebration of marriage in the US.

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