What Happens if You Don't Get a Prenup?

We’ll walk you through the best way to approach the topic with your partner—and what to do if you disagree.

By Amanda Mitchell

What Happens if You Don't Get a Prenup
Photo by Shutterstock

The First Look ✨

  • A prenup may be a difficult conversation, but it’s a bulletproof way to ensure your future.
  • You should consider a prenup if you’re looking to protect assets, children, and any future financial matters and decisions.
  • Not getting a prenup leaves your divorce into the state’s jurisdictions. In that case, it’s important to protect your assets and keep them separate without a prenup.

You’ve found a romantic partner, you’re absolutely wild about them—now it’s time to plan for your future.

Before walking down the aisle, it’s important to make sure you’re both on the same page about what’s to come. And though a prenuptial agreement can be rather controversial in some circles, it's a surefire way to protect both you and your partner.

Prenups ensure you’ve established common ground and covered all of your bases to save both you and your partner from future strife, should things go south.

But if you’re still wondering whether or not a prenuptial agreement is for you, Zola spoke to a marriage attorney, a relationship therapist, and a financial advisor to show you what happens if you don’t get a prenup.

How Do I Know If I Need a Prenup Agreement?

Ideally, a prenup conversation occurs before ever placing a deposit on a wedding location—if not even sooner. “Timing is everything. As soon as it seems that an engagement could be on the horizon, begin to have this conversation with your partner. It may not be a great time to pursue the conversation during the process of planning a wedding nor when emotions are high,” says Dr. Markesha Miller.

According to financial advisor Theresa Morrison, you probably need a prenup if you or your partner answer “yes” to any of these:

  • Have divergent net worth
  • Have a wide gap in income potential
  • Have separate assets
  • Have assets you’d like to keep separate
  • Expect to inherit wealth
  • Have debt (including student loans, back taxes, credit/store cards)
  • Have a tendency to get into debt
  • Will step your career back to support the other’s career or take care of children
  • Have children from a previous relationship
  • Expect to take on responsibilities for older relatives (usually parents)
  • Own real estate
  • Own your own business, in whole or part

What Happens If I Don’t Get a Prenup?

According to marriage attorney Renee Bauer, divorcing without a prenup means you fall under the state’s jurisdiction: “Some states say everything is fair game. Some states say what you brought into the marriage is yours to walk out with and everything acquired during the marriage is divided. A prenup is supposed to reduce the likelihood of a fight during a divorce, but sometimes people want to fight anyway, and they will ask the court to disregard the prenup. Then the fight turns to whether it is enforceable or not.”

It’s not the end of the world if you choose not to get a prenuptial agreement, really—it’s entirely a personal decision to be made between you and your future partner. However, it’s important to have these hard conversations before jumping into a legal conundrum that can end poorly. “Stack the odds of a successful lifetime marriage in your favor by making the effort before you get married. With or without a prenup, know your partner well,” says Morrison. “If the marriage does end and you don’t have a prenup, you still work through the division of financial assets and income, however, there is more room for acrimony and legal wrangling. Generally, divorce without a prenup costs more, takes longer, and is more emotionally charged.”

Hear that? Save money and your heart by doing it all ahead of time.

What Happens if You Don't Get a Prenup Photo Credit // Shutterstock

I Don’t Want a Prenup. How Can I Protect Myself Without One?

The answer here is pretty simple: Keep your assets separate. Don’t share money, accounts, gifts, or inheritances with your partner, and hold separate titles to assets. You’ll want to set up individual revocable trusts, not joint. It’s always good to get as many things in writing as possible, to affirm your worth and value in this relationship.

If you change your mind, a postnuptial agreement (or a postnup) is also a possibility. “Educate yourself about the laws of your state and how assets are divided during a divorce. You need to know whether your state says all the property is thrown into the pot if you get divorced or whether what you brought into the marriage is excluded. It might be well worth it to pay a lawyer for an hour of their time to ask all of these questions.” says Bauer.

How Should I Approach the Topic of a Prenup With My Partner?

The prenup conversation can be an uncomfortable one, but a deeply important one. Approach the topic with sensitivity and positivity. The tone of the conversation really matters here. “Make it fun. Be casual. Don’t call it a meeting. Begin by sharing your dreams and values. Recognize that everyone has a different money-memory and triggers. Keep it a judgement-free zone,” says Morrison. “Most importantly: Do not lie or conceal.” Talking about a prenup is really taking the time to talk about your lives together, and clarify financial matters and responsibilities during marriage.

The questions you’re discussing are more than just a piece of paper. You should touch on:

  • Who will step back their career if we have children?
  • Will pre-marital debt become the responsibility of both of us?
  • How will we designate beneficiaries on our retirement and investment accounts?
  • Are we willing to support the other spouse while they attend college, or start a business?
  • Whose career will prevail if a major opportunity arises that requires relocating?

Make sure your dreams and values deeply align in every step of your marriage—you don’t want resentments to build up over time, leading to a nasty and painful divorce.

What Happens if You Don't Get a Prenup Photo Credit // Shutterstock

My Partner Is Against the Entire Concept of Prenups. What Should I Do?

This is the perfect chance to understand and develop conflict resolution skills before your marriage. Determine if this person is really who you want as a potential future partner. If yes, consider premarital counseling to discuss this, as well as other differences in values and beliefs. The pre-marriage period is a great time to dig a little deeper to make sure you’re on the same page. If they don’t want to sign a legal document, it’s still vastly important to discuss the terms of how you would want your marriage to function.

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