Before "I do," sign on the dotted lineZach and Miranda Lavelle of Fargo planned everything for their June 2010 wedding: the colors, the location, the cake — and the prenuptial agreement. The Lavelles are not alone. A survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers revealed that 73 percent of divorce attorneys surveyed reported an increase in demand for prenuptial agreements since 2005.
By: Anna G. Larson , Forum Communications
Zach and Miranda Lavelle of Fargo planned everything for their June 2010 wedding: the colors, the location, the cake — and the prenuptial agreement.
The Lavelles are not alone. A survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers revealed that 73 percent of divorce attorneys surveyed reported an increase in demand for prenuptial agreements since 2005.
Tim Dittus, an attorney with the Camrud Maddock Olson and Larson law firm in Grand Forks, said he typically writes about three or four prenuptial agreements a year.
“I’ve seen more of them in the last five to 10 years than I did at the very beginning of my practice,” said Dittus, who has been with the firm since 1986.
The increase is likely due to a growing awareness of the need for prenuptial agreements, he said, and an increasing acceptance of this type of agreement generally.
“In the past, there may have been some apprehension on the part of the prospective spouse to be approached to sign this type of agreement,” he said. “It’s more commonplace now.”
Most people who seek prenuptial agreements are family business owners, Dittus said. “Especially with folks in our agricultural community, there’s a great tie to the land. The land may have been in the family for generations.
“There’s a desire to see that land stay in the family and to insulate the family farm from claims,” he said.
Dittus said typical situations involve younger people who stand to inherit a portion of the business or farm.
“Particularly in the case of a second marriage, there’s a desire to protect the assets that (clients) have accumulated to that point, for their children from a previous marriage.
“I think that’s the vast majority of these cases.”
Leah Sonstelie Warner, a civil litigation and family/domestic law attorney at Vogel Law Firm in Fargo estimated that Fargo-Moorhead has an average number of prenuptial agreements for the size of the area.
“People want to make sure their family’s interests are protected,” Warner said.
James and Inez Smith, both of Denver, signed a prenup 15 years ago for just that reason. James, who grew up Fargo, proposed to Inez with a 1¼ carat diamond ring his grandfather gave to his grandmother, both now deceased. Smith and his siblings wanted to ensure that the ring stay in their family.
“I loved my grandmother, and there was a part of me that wanted to share her with Inez,” he said. “It was done to preserve something for the family, both in the past and for future generations.”
Smith told his then-future bride that she could accept the ring and the prenup, or they could pick out a new ring for her and ignore the prenup.
“I told her that whether it was that ring, or we go out and get one that she would rather wear and ignore the prenup, I would agree with her wishes,” he said.
Both the Lavelles and the Smiths discussed the terms of their prenups well before their weddings.
In a 2012 poll by Northwestern Mutual, 78 percent of couples said they discussed personal finances before marriage.
“I had to be open and upfront with everything I was coming into the marriage with since we were going to be a team,” Miranda Lavelle said. “If you don’t, once you start working on a prenup, it’s all going to come to light pretty quickly.”
Discussing finances before marriage is important since each partner’s financial decisions have a direct impact on their financial future as a couple, said Karissa Schmoll, a marriage and family therapist at The Village Family Service Center in Moorhead.
“It is important to know if they are financially responsible and what their philosophy is on money,” she said. “Suggesting a prenup is usually a smart financial decision, which is a quality that most people would admire in a partner.”
Couples entering a prenup must identify assets and debts at the time of the agreement. One party has their lawyer draft the agreement, and the other party looks over the agreement with their own lawyer. Prenups also have to be a voluntary agreement in order to be enforced.
If one party feels the terms of the prenup are unfair, lawyers can negotiate.
In her 10 years of law practice, Warner said she has never seen a wedding called off due to a prenuptial agreement.
Working through a prenup can be good practice for marriage, Schmoll said, since there will be times that one partner wants something and the other doesn’t.
Both James Smith and Miranda Lavelle were concerned about their partners’ feelings when they proposed the idea of a prenup. Concern for the opposite party’s feelings is common, Warner said.
Honesty about why one partner wants to protect assets is important too, Schmoll said.
James Smith said he explained to Inez how much the ring meant to his family and their desire to keep the ring in the family.
Despite Zach Lavelle’s reassurance, Miranda considered not going through with the prenup just two weeks before the wedding because it seemed “cold and technical.”
Often times, Warner said, prenups can be viewed as anti-romantic although they serve an important purpose.
James Smith was also apprehensive about asking Inez to sign a prenup.
Miranda and Zach Lavelle pointed to the open, honest communication in their relationship for the success of their journey to marriage.
“We were really open with each other from the beginning,” she said. “I would do a prenup again in a second, even if I was on the other end.”
The Herald’s Pamela Knudson contributed to this report.
Rumored celeb prenups
- One of the most recent headline-making breakups is that of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise. Holmes is said to earn $3 million for each year she was married to Cruise. Some reports said this rumor is just that — a rumor, and Holmes will receive next to nothing.
The actress is, however, reportedly pushing to receive child support from Cruise and full custody of their 6-year-old daughter Suri, TMZ.com and TheHollywoodGossip.com both reported.
- If Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom split, Kardashian reportedly receives $500,000 for each year they’re married, $25,000 a month in spousal support, their house, a new car at the end of every lease cycle, a $5,000 monthly shopping budget, a $1,000 monthly beauty budget and season courtside Lakers tickets for her whole family, according to www.upi.com and www.foresightlegal.com.
- Newser.com reports that Catherine Zeta-Jones will allegedly make $5 million if Michael Douglas cheats on her. Zeta-Jones would also make $2.8 million for every year of marriage. The couple has been married since 2000. If their union goes south this year, Zeta-Jones would acquire $33.6 million.