Increase in Premarital Agreements an (Unexpected) Effect of the Great Recession - Family Law Attorney C. Keith Lea Weighs In

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As the recession continues, more couples in Houston and throughout the nation are opting to protect their remaining assets, and one way they are doing so is by entering into premarital agreements, says attorney C. Keith Lea. In a growing trend, more women and unmarried couples are utilizing prenups than ever before.

When the prenup conversation is handled with honesty, respect, and consideration of the rights of both prospective spouses, the result can be a greater level of financial understanding and confidence.

There was a time when only the very rich thought of using premarital agreements. That is not the case anymore, says attorney C. Keith Lea, of Wilhite & Lea, P.C. Today, more middle-class couples are choosing to sign such agreements—and it is no longer only men making the first move.

A recent poll, conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), finds that 52% of divorce attorneys nationwide report an increase in the initiation of premarital agreements by women.* That increase is due, in part, to the increase in the number of women in the workforce. According to the Department of Labor, women now comprise 46.8% of the workforce, and that number is rising.** While those are nationwide statistics, women make up an increasing percentage of the workforce in Houston as well. With more women working and making higher salaries and wages, women have increasingly become interested in protecting their assets should their marriage end in divorce.

The reasons for an increase in the number of premarital agreements in Texas, and throughout the country, include more than protecting assets owned before marriage. More middle class couples are opting to sign prenups as a way to protect their retirement and pension benefits. The AAML poll found a 36% increase in the number of couples including retirement or pension benefits in their premarital agreements, in an attempt to protect what the dwindling economy may have already ravaged.* Other couples opt to sign prenups as a way to protect future spouses against the other’s separate debts. Under Texas law, there are few limits to what may be agreed to in a premarital agreement, giving today’s couples the freedom to make decisions that extend far beyond protection of wealth.

“Many couples are afraid to talk with their significant other about premarital agreements”, says Houston family law attorney C. Keith Lea. “Some are afraid that the other half of the couple will get defensive, or that it will be seen as a sign of bad faith. But when the prenup conversation is handled with honesty, respect, and consideration of the rights of both prospective spouses, the result can be a greater level of financial understanding and confidence.”

“An experienced family law attorney can help you facilitate the conversation and negotiate an agreement,” says Lea.

It is also important to note that prenups are not just for engaged couples. Today many couples who do not plan to marry but who share a residence, property, and debt load are opting to sign cohabitation agreements, also known as “cohabs.” Cohabs are an option for students, young professionals, and other persons living together who do not plant to tie the knot, but still wish to plan for the future. A cohabitation agreement may cover issues such as which party will move out of the shared residence in the event of a break-up, who will take what furniture or other personal property, and even who will get custody of the pets.

“Individuals from all social and economic groups have been executing wills and other estate planning documents and investing in life, disability, health, vehicle, and homeowners’ insurance for decades to plan for life’s contingencies. Thoughtful planning can give you peace of mind in an otherwise tumultuous world,” Lea reminds, “and premarital or cohabitation agreements are viable options for limiting or preventing future costly financial disputes.”

C. Keith Lea is a shareholder with Wilhite & Lea, P.C. Lea handles civil litigation, family law, and divorce matters in Houston, including the surrounding areas of Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Grimes, Washington, and Waller Counties.

*“Prenups are up – particularly among women.” Lisa Shindler, September 28 2010, Investment News.

** “For better or for worse, but with a prenup.” Sabrina Ford, September 27 2010, Reuters.

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