This article has three points:
1. Premarital Agreements do not have to be rushed to completion two days before the wedding.
2. Couples about to marry can define the terms of their marriage in a legally binding Marital Agreement entered into without any time pressure AFTER the wedding, free of any later judicial concern that someone was coerced by the time pressures of the imminent wedding day to agree to something (s)he did not want or otherwise unfair.
3. Marital Mediation is a great way for family mediators to help couples define terms of their marriage in a legally binding contract, and there are training opportunities available for family mediators to learn more about this new application of their mediation skills.
“John, I feel like a great weight has been lifted and I am just so happy to know that I am actually getting married on my wedding day; thank you!” I received this email from the future wife on December 27th, who first contacted me about December 20th for help in obtaining a premarital agreement before their wedding on December 31. That’s two days from now, as I’m sending this article to Mediate.com on the 29th.
So what happened to our star-eyed lovers, and what did I do? It turns out that Sally has been living with Bill for four years and they decided this fall to get married on December 31. So far, so good. Then Bill introduced the idea of a premarital agreement to protect his houses and his future inheritance, and Sally readily agreed that was fair although she was bringing relatively few assets into the marriage. So far, still okay. But then months went by, with Sally reminding Bill he needed to produce a premarital agreement for her to look at with her own lawyer.
Dumdedumdum. On about December 18 Bill gave her an approximately 20 page “AnteNuptial Agreement” for her to review with her own lawyer and she called me on the suggestion of George, the lawyer for Bill, and asked me to represent her. As I knew George to be a cooperative lawyer, I agreed, though I would have preferred to be their mediator of course. (Sometimes “it’s better to settle for half,” says Alfieri the lawyer at the end of “A View from the Bridge.”).
She asked Bill to forward the agreement to me, which he did on December 19, with a note that his lawyer was still working on it. Alas, the draft was pretty bad. The details are irrelevant here, though what bothered me the most was the absence of language allowing them to own any property jointly. If they ever got divorced, there were token payments from his property and little alimony, etc.
I called Sally and asked her what she thought about this agreement. She was quite hurt at its shabby treatment of their pending marriage and angry that Bill had procrastinated for months before getting the agreement to her about two weeks before the wedding. After two days of back and forth by email and telephone with her, it was now about the day before Christmas.
The chances of their completing an enforceable Premarital Agreement, one that they both actually wanted, under these circumstances seemed small. I advised Sally that she could relax, enjoy Christmas Day and the week before their wedding, and then agree to enter into a Marital Agreement containing all the terms on which they both agreed. She liked that idea, told Bill, he agreed and I wrote for her a short Interim Premarital Agreement in which they agreed to enter into a Marital Agreement as soon as possible AFTER the wedding and defined basic concepts they wanted incorporated into that agreement. They signed the Interim Premarital Agreement today. I look forward to a constructive process in early 2010.
For more information about Marital Mediation, see www.mediationtostaymarried.com or www.mediate.com/fiske. These websites explain how marital mediation works and describe the Marital Mediation Training which Laurie Israel and I are offering in March, 2010 for family mediators only. We welcome your comments and suggestions and, especially, tales of your own professional frustrations in trying to deal with “Antenuptial Agreements” presented to you two weeks before the wedding during the Christmas holidays.
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