PANDEMIC PRENUPS IN THE AGE OF CORONAVIRUS
COVID-19 delayed thousands of weddings across the country this year, leaving couples more time to consider a prenuptial agreement.
Fall 2020 Issue
The coronavirus pandemic and the sudden involuntary confinement resulting from extended stay-at-home orders have had a profound impact on marriages across the country. People who were used to having their own space and daily routines had their lives turned upside down, as the pandemic forced couples to spend almost 24 hours a day living on top of each other. For some couples, the opportunity to spend more time together has enabled them to enjoy more intimacy and has reminded them of the importance of their relationship. For many others, the tension from their pre-existing marital issues was amplified by the challenges foisted upon them by the pandemic, exposing the fragility of their relationships. Sadly, the number of marital casualties from the coronavirus pandemic is expected to be staggering. Matrimonial lawyers anticipate a wave of divorce filings across the country as the quarantine restrictions are lifted.
Prior to the pandemic, the average couple planning their wedding already had plenty of tough decisions to make. COVID-19 caught the world by surprise and dramatically changed life as we know it in what felt like the blink of an eye, reminding us that we really have no idea what future challenges we may face. For couples planning to get married in 2020, the quarantine restrictions caused a complete upheaval in their wedding plans and presented logistical obstacles they never expected to encounter. Thousands of couples were forced to delay, change or cancel their wedding plans due to the difficulty in obtaining marriage licenses, the shuttering of wedding venues and the prohibitions against mass gatherings. Many marrying people are using the down time to consider and discuss the benefits of entering into a prenuptial agreement for the first time, and the demand for prenups may increase because of the pandemic.
A prenuptial agreement is a written contract entered into by a couple prior to marriage that allows them to select and control many of the legal rights they acquire upon marrying, and what happens when their marriage eventually ends by death or divorce. Couples enter into a prenup to replace many of the default marital laws that might cause conflict and hostility between divorcing spouses, with agreed-upon terms that provide certainty and clarity as to their rights. Premarital contracts typically contain simple terms that replace the complicated default state laws covering the following marital rights:
How to fairly divide joint marital property in the event of divorce
Whether a spouse can seek spousal support (e.g., alimony) in a divorce
Whether a surviving spouse can claim an elective share or “take against” the estate of the deceased spouse; and
Whether a spouse can make a marital claim against the retirement savings, pension and/or the separate property/assets of the other spouse in the event of divorce.
A well-drafted prenup can eliminate conflict in a divorce because most of the issues that cause spouses to fight are already decided. If prepared correctly, a premarital agreement should increase the chance that a divorcing couple can avoid a trial and keep things friendly.
Some people see a prenup as a tension release valve that increases their confidence to get married, because no matter what disaster might impact their marriage, they know their rights if it doesn’t work out. Owen (last name withheld at his request), a resident of Northern Virginia in his early 40s, recently got engaged and is planning to marry his fiancé before the end of the year. He never considered the benefits of a premarital agreement until he witnessed the record-level job losses and financial hardships suffered by millions of Americans over the last few months. Owen says, “After COVID we both want a prenup because you just never know what’s going to happen in the future. Every person I know getting married is thinking that a prenup might be a good idea. Since you can’t really count on things working out the way you hope with life in general, at least we can count on our prenup.”
Owen’s rationale for wanting a premarital agreement is similar to the mindset held by many people who have contacted our law firm since the COVID-19 outbreak. The old stigma of entering into a premarital agreement is truly ancient history. In a current survey of more than 560 Charlotte Agenda readers, 71% of respondents said they think prenuptial agreements are a good idea. The coronavirus pandemic has made people crave certainty and control over their lives where they can find it. Since a premarital agreement allows spouses to take control of their destiny in the unfortunate event of separation and divorce, the popularity of prenups will probably continue to rise as our country opens up and recovers from COVID-19.