cost of having a prenup
October 6, 2007 9:29 AM   Subscribe

My fiance has asked that I sign a prenuptial agreement.

His net worth is 4 million. My net worth is 5K. I have been told I have to hire a lawyer for the signing. How much should I expect to pay based on what I am bringing into the marriage. Can I have a notary at my bank read it over with me instead of hiring a lawyer?
posted by wondergreen to Law & Government (39 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If I were you I'd get a lawyer. The notaries I've dealt with have known little more about legal issues than me--they were just there to provide an "official" signature.
posted by schroedinger at 9:35 AM on October 6, 2007

I think you should ask him to pay for a lawyer for you. One of your choosing, so it's completely independent advice you're getting but with him agreeing to foot the bill. This is something he wants, so it's only right he should carry the expense of it.

And yes, you need legal advice from a specialist family lawyer, not just a notary witnessing your signature.

Contact your local Bar Association for a list of family lawyers. or the ABA.
posted by essexjan at 9:35 AM on October 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

What's at stake isn't your 5K, its his 4million. You need a good lawyer.

If he wants you to sign a prenup, and you still want to marry him knowing that he doesn't plan on thinking of the money as belonging to both of your, but rather belonging just to him, then you definitely need legal help in making sure that you're protected. Do you want to be a millionaire for 10 years and then have only 5k again?
posted by jpdoane at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2007

Also: I think it is great you are agreeing to a pre-nup. I know to many people it is a very unromantic thing to do, but it really is the best way to tell your partner you're marrying him for him, not the money. In a situation where you have such wildly different net worths (and presumably incomes) this is very important.

Do remember though, when you are figuring out the pre-nup to take into account how much money this marriage will potentially cost you. Part of the reason for alimony is to account for money a wife may have lost by virtue of abandoning her career to stay home and take care of the kids for the husband (or the other way around if that were the case). So if that's the situation you guys will be getting into, it's not unreasonable for you to ask for something if things were to go south--though not, of course, everything.

I am kind of taken aback at how other posters are approaching this, though, that you should go into this pre-nup with the attempt to wring out as much money from him as possible so you could maintain your millionaire status if you guys ever broke up. That doesn't seem to be terribly fair to him, and if you truly aren't marrying him for the money that's not the route you should take.
posted by schroedinger at 9:45 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with essexjan about him paying and about using a lawyer. You can see a deeper response in another of my replies about prenups here. Good luck. I'm happy to talk via email if you want more info.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:45 AM on October 6, 2007

schroedinger, my answer does not suggest that the poster "wrings money out of him". It's likely that a pre-nup signed without the benefit of legal advice would not be binding in any event. And with that amount of money involved, the poster needs advice from a specialist, not a general practitioner. That advice will not be cheap, and it's only right and proper that the fiancé pays for the poster to have specialist advice in order to reach an informed choice on whether or not to sign.
posted by essexjan at 9:49 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get a lawyer. Also think hard about someone who wants to make a a power play like this as part of your wedding planning.

It is easy to imagine that a good lawyer doing a thurough job would leave you broke, which means you are already in a week negotiating position, financially, and engaging over this prenup would make your position even weaker.

Do you already have the prenup document? Call around get a ballpark from a number of attorneys on what it will cost to review it and help see you through a few rounds of revisions. Then have your fiancé put a deposit down on your marriage in excess of that amount, under your full control, to use to offset the expense and mitigate your risk.
posted by Good Brain at 9:58 AM on October 6, 2007

I agree that he should pay for the lawyer. I would presume he'd be happy to do it, in that he'd want to make sure that everything was as fair to both of you as possible -- which would certainly include your having legal counsel equivalent in experience and knowledge to his own lawyers'.
posted by occhiblu at 10:09 AM on October 6, 2007

Just to clarify, I didn't mean that you should "try to wring as much money out of him". To me, the money itself seems less important than the implications of him wanting a prenup.
posted by jpdoane at 10:10 AM on October 6, 2007

Depending on the state, but in CA if you have a pre-nup you have to go to an attorney (not his, though). They make sure you understand it.

I wonder if he pays for you to go if it looks like he arranged who you went to, the advice you received and if his attorney is not advising it not to do it for that reason.

FWIW, I don't think they are a bad thing. Show you love him for him, and not his money. It's only for if you should divorce, and the stuff (money) you attain together is usually shared.

IMNAA, but I am familiar with a pre-nup. Make sure you understand ALL of it before you sign it.
posted by 6:1 at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2007

Pre-nups are awesome. Basically, they're an instrument to ensure that the business aspects of a marriage do what you and your intended want them to. For example, your intended might want a pre-nup that states explicitly that you *are* intended to half of his money in the event of a divorce. I don't know, but that's not out of the question.

The idea of a pre-nup is that there are three parties to a marriage, spouse one, spouse two, and the community. The community is the interest and assets accumulated as a result of your partnership and the pre-nup sets out the conditions for how the community accumulates those assets.

So yeah, you need a lawyer. If you're in Seattle or Reno, I have a number of recommendations. I'd suggest looking for a lawyer that does same-sex partnerships. Why? Because this basically involves creating a legal marriage from scratch and is a negotiated process rather than an adversarial one. You are not, as one (fired) attorney told me, "negotiating your divorce," you are negotiating the financial aspects of your life together.

I think your intended should pay for your lawyer because, hey, he can afford it and further, if you do not have an attorney of your own or if there are any signs of the pre-nup being signed under duress, there is a significant chance that the agreement will be nullified in the event of a divorce. For example, my wife and my attorneys advised us to get our pre-nup notarized at least two weeks before the ceremony so as to avoid the appearance of coercion.

As for cost, my wife and I each paid for about 3-4 hours of a lawyers time at 150-200$/hour. We got of cheap because her stepmother is a family law attorney and spent five or six hours explaining the process and answering stupid questions. Also, an attorney should provide a 1/2 hour consultation without charge. Go to as many of these as you need to find an attorney you're comfortable with. It's important and, on the upside, you'll establish a relationship with a lawyer which is always a good thing to have.

One last aside, apparently they're called "ante-marriage" agreements nowadays. I'm not a fan of the term, but it couldn't hurt to be familiar with it.
posted by stet at 10:16 AM on October 6, 2007 [7 favorites]

Jan is absolutely right, in both her answers. However, most American attorneys ethics committees (in my experience) frown upon one party paying for the attorneys on both sides of the table (except in real estate closings). It can, in fact, invalidate the contract. Although I agree your finance should pay for your having independent counsel in this matter, I would not let the fee influence my choice of attorney in this matter.

This sort of estate planning (because it's often not the groom/bride's personal assets at stake, but family assets) is routine and does not necessarily reflect mistrust of the marriage or the bride/groom. Also, the fee will not be based upon the assets of either party, but the work involved on behalf of the attorney, which could be considerable, but could be minor. It depends upon the structure of the assets and the structure of the agreement. Try to negotiate a flat rate with the attorney you choose.

It's unlikely that this will leave you broke. It's drafting an agreement, not litigating the enforcement of the agreement. It's very routine. It will probably be more than you want to spend, but it shouldn't be more than a couple thousand dollars.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:20 AM on October 6, 2007

when I say "shouldn't be more than a couple thousand dollars" I mean at the very most; like stet suggests, you're most likely looking at 5-6 hours at normal billing at most. His attorney is drafting it; yours is merely reviewing it, explaining it to you, and making sure nothing needs revising.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:24 AM on October 6, 2007

You should have your own lawyer, not just to read it over with you at the signing, but to help his lawyer draft it. Having and paying your own lawyer, who is free of conflict of interest, is necessary to ensure the validity of the agreement, among other things.

Also: the rights you will presumably be asked to waive when signing a prenup are in place for a reason and they have some value. You should make sure your own interests are protected.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:24 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get a lawyer, get a lawyer, get a lawyer. And make sure you put in lots of provisions for things such as having kids, if he wants you not to work and to stay home, he's gonna have to pay you for that should he divorce you. You need to protect yourself, 10 years down the line you could have made a lot of sacrifices and had a lot of kids and have no career because of this marriage. Women constantly and unthinkingly make sacrifices for their marriages, this isn't about wringing money out of him. He's protecting himself, there is nothing selfish or greedy about you doing the same.

Also, does he have a first draft of the agreement? I would look over that real carefully, if he has left you with nothing in the event of a divorce, that says a lot about him and whether you want to get into this marriage.

Sorry to be so cynical, some pre-nups are perfectly reasonable and leave each party with a reasonable amount of money and are paid out based upon how long the marriage was and whether there are children, etc. But be very very careful.
posted by whoaali at 10:43 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

In response to ikkyu2's entirely accurate statement about rights being waived, a pre-nup can create rights in addition to waiving them. A good lawyer (by my criteria) will make this process a positive and collaborative process and one that will strengthen your partnership with your intended.

Remember that this is not an instrument to protect one partner from another, it's an instrument to make your marriage do what you want it to. One of those things that marriage is supposed to do is provide a degree of protection for both parties and the community created. When negotiating my pre-nup there were a number of clauses where my lawyer said, "I'm required to advise you that clause X is against your interests. Is this the situation you want?" Then I'd say yes and he'd say "OK" and we'd move on. I was, at this point, the party with the money, for the record, and I wanted our pre-nup to protect my wife in the event of a divorce.
posted by stet at 10:55 AM on October 6, 2007

Do you want to be a millionaire for 10 years and then have only 5k again?

Great logic. Does he want to be worth four million today, and two million in a year and a half? It's a perfectly reasonable request. But sure, get a lawyer.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:59 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

For example, your intended might want a pre-nup that states explicitly that you *are* intended to half of his money in the event of a divorce. I don't know, but that's not out of the question.

Or, for example, each party can expect half of the couple's future combined assets in the instance of divorce. Who knows...maybe wondergreen's novel will get published and sell like hot cakes? Don't forget that you also bring to the marriage a potential of building assets and future value.
posted by ericb at 11:01 AM on October 6, 2007

It's okay to have a lawyer paid for by the other party (based on model ethical rules, not any particular state's) AS LONG AS

(1) the client gives informed consent;

(2) there is no interference with the lawyer's independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship; and

(3) information relating to representation of a client is protected as required by Rule 1.6.
posted by katemonster at 11:23 AM on October 6, 2007

I've expressed my doubts about this situation, but I recognize there is a case to be made for a prenup, that it obviously has to be taken care of before the wedding, and that given that, there is no way around it forcing the issue of the financial/power imbalance between the two parties. I still think that he should help mitigate those issues if he is a decent guy and worth marrying.

However, I should say that if the initial prenup is unfair or one side onesided, that I don't think it necessarily reflects badly on him or your relationship. It could just mean that his lawyer is looking out for your fiances interests, as a lawyer should, but that his lawyer is most concerned with financial issues, as lawyers sometimes are.
posted by Good Brain at 11:51 AM on October 6, 2007

Take it to a lawyer, not a notary.

If he offers to pay for your representation, think hard about katemonster's (2), above. If you can afford to hire a good lawyer with your own money, that's the best choice.
posted by psmith at 12:12 PM on October 6, 2007

Prenups are awesome, don't listen to the haters.

Since he has some many more resources than you, I don't see a problem with him paying for your attorney so long as that involves him just giving you cash and you finding and hiring the attorney out of your own pocket.

In other words, he should not be involved with your attorney at all. He should give you some money no strings attached and you should use it how you see fit. "How you see fit" should be hiring an attorney, of course.
posted by Justinian at 12:46 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

However, I should say that if the initial prenup is unfair or one side onesided, that I don't think it necessarily reflects badly on him or your relationship. It could just mean that his lawyer is looking out for your fiances interests, as a lawyer should, but that his lawyer is most concerned with financial issues, as lawyers sometimes are.

I know I have already said this, but I feel I should expand. I couldn't disagree more. This man is a multi millionaire, he knows his way around a lawyer. There are really only two conversations that could take place. One would be long, drawn out, and would go along the lines of I don't want her to be left with nothing, but I also wants to be protected. The other is make sure she can't get a dime and maybe try to get half of that 5k if you can.

You are at a massive disadvantage in this situation both financially and experientially. Also the fact that he just wants you to get a lawyer and sign it (and by the way it would be nearly impossible to enforce if you didn't have one so this isn't him looking out for you) is rather scary. Where is the negotiation? Do you even know vaguely what the terms are? Or have you just been told you need to sign a pre nup, no mention whatsoever what that really means?

Get big scary expensive lawyer now.

And then bill it to him.
posted by whoaali at 1:06 PM on October 6, 2007

In my fiance's defense, he does foot the bill on 98% of things. So I understand I could at least pay for the expense of my attorney, I just wanted to know what that might be. I've never had to use a lawyer before.

I don't know what the terms of the agreement are other than the money he has earned prior to us being married, will be solely his. He did mention if I am ever unfaithful to him, he will have in the contract that I get nothing. The agreement hasn't been shown to me yet.

The comments I've received have been incredibly helpful. I will seek someone that can possibly negotiate the contract with his lawyer.
posted by wondergreen at 1:20 PM on October 6, 2007

This man is a multi millionaire, he knows his way around a lawyer.

How do we know this? How do we know he's the financially savvy, dealmaking, investment-banking shark and wondergreen's a pretty, naive preschool teacher for orphaned parapalegic mentally-disabled children who he plans on marrying for her looks and then bleeding dry when he divorces for a newer model? Is it possible he's a shy, nerdy guy who got rich off the dot-com boom, and was dragged away from his Wii by his best friend to a bar where he met wondergreen, a trailer-park golddigger who, I don't know, bites the heads off of puppies and is searching for the opportunity to sink her claws into a man who doesn't know any better? And the friend advised him to get a lawyer recognizing the danger?

I mean, I think both of those situations are pretty ridiculous. I think it's unfair for us to peg malicious intentions on the fiance and make wondergreen even more twitchy about this marriage, which I'm sure she's already worried about (and is probably getting plenty of golddigger accusations already).

Wondergreen, you should get a lawyer. You should not assume your fiance is out to get you. There are a number of reasonable answers to this question and a number of paranoid, ridiculous ones.
posted by schroedinger at 1:25 PM on October 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

"Do you want to be a millionaire for 10 years and then have only 5k again?"

Ok, this was perhaps a bad way for me to make my point. I did not intend to sound so materialistic, and I apologize for the clumsy wording/logic

I am not suggesting that she is going into the marriage for the money. Rather, I am suggesting that her fiancee is already planning for their divorce, and with no-one looking out for her interests, she could be in for a rude awakening when he decides he doesn't want to be married anymore. I think prenups introduce mistrust and individualism from the start that are unhealthy to a marriage, and I simply was trying to illustrate the vulnerable position she could be in.
posted by jpdoane at 1:34 PM on October 6, 2007

The clause about infidelity makes me nervous, especially if there isn't one in there about how if he's unfaithful, you get everything (including allocating funds for you to hire a private detective to prove his infidelity...) And even then, it seems to me that you should only lose the money accumulated after the infidelity, not retroactively back to the beginning of the marriage as though you were an adulteress just waiting to happen. That clause just sounds controlling.

IMO, the point of a pre-nup is not to scare people into behaving like good spouses, love should do that, but to hold people to their best intentions instead of allowing the emotional nightmare of divorce to determine the financial results of a break-up.

Generally I agree that pre-nups are *great*, and there is nothing unromantic about them. But what you've said makes me uncomfortable! Maybe you could suggest a post-nup? AFAIK, post-nups are just as if not more binding than pre-nups, because there is less of the coercion factor at stake. You could be in a more equal (imo, better) position to come to an agreement that has both of your best interests in mind.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:36 PM on October 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

Something that hasn't been mentioned yet about the lawyer Wondergreen needs to get: The Prenup was probably created by a fairly large firm since they are difficult to insure. I would suggest making sure the lawyer you hire has experience with Prenups, they are not every family practice lawyer's cup of tea.
posted by ptm at 1:36 PM on October 6, 2007

In general, I think that pre-nups are fine ideas.

But if my future spouse said this to me:

the money he has earned prior to us being married, will be solely his. He did mention if I am ever unfaithful to him, he will have in the contract that I get nothing. The agreement hasn't been shown to me yet.

I would be less excited. I guess if I were you I'd ask him to tell me more about how he sees this contract working before I even agreed to start looking for my own lawyer.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:41 PM on October 6, 2007

In my fiance's defense, he does foot the bill on 98% of things. So I understand I could at least pay for the expense of my attorney, I just wanted to know what that might be. I've never had to use a lawyer before.

I'm sorry to be harsh, but alarm bells are going off in my head. So he will pay for everything, except for a lawyer to help you make one of the most important financial decisions of your life. And you haven't even seen it yet?

I also find it extraordinarily hard to believe that a man with that kind of money, that is taking this kind of preemptive action to protect his assets, doesn't regularly consult with attorneys all the time. I also find it hard to believe that his attorney pulled his pre nup out of a drawer without asking him what he wanted his pre nup to do for him. These are the kind of conversation attorneys have with their clients. And furthermore, just by what he has told his fiance, he knows the terms of it and has read it.

I'm not saying that a pre nup isn't a valid request or that you should get everything should you divorce. But you deserve to have your interests protected and you deserve to have an advocate looking out for you.
posted by whoaali at 1:54 PM on October 6, 2007

He did mention if I am ever unfaithful to him, he will have in the contract that I get nothing.

See, this is one of the things that needs to be discussed with a lawyer, as you too need a clause covering what happens if he should be unfaithful.

Step one in a pre-nup should be you and your intended sitting down together and talking about it, going over the proposed agreement together, discussing each other's terms, asking each other questions. You are forming a relationship and using legal language to create protections (presumably for both of you), but it should all be things the two of you can talk about together without being uncomfortable. I'd be worried if any party in the relationship was uncomfortable sitting down and talking deeply about a legal document that is going to be sitting at the foundation of your marriage.

It seems (though I may be wrong) that he has had an agreement drafted without any input from you and without doing more than mentioning things that are in it. While I am willing to concede he may have your best interests at heart too, he also may not (and not out of any sort of maliciousness, just cluelessness).

Once the two of you have discussed it, then you need a lawyer (both lawyers) to go over it to point out things that are unworkable or unfair, points you may have missed or ways in which you may be willing to sacrifice but shouldn't (for your own protection). I do think he should help pay for the lawyer. It doesn't feel fair to ask you to spend half your net worth paying for a lawyer. What if, after all the lawyering is done, no agreement is reached?

I don't have a problem with pre-nups to protect the wealth of one partner who has it in the event of a divorce. It still feels strange, but I understand it. What I do have a problem with is pre-nups with terms about getting "nothing" in the event of infidelity ... unless there's a clause covering what the less-wealthy partner "gets" in the event they are the one being cheated on. And when you start codifying rules in a marriage about who gets what in the event X happens, to me it seems a lot more like controlling behavior rather than protection previously acquired of assets.
posted by Orb at 2:04 PM on October 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

If he makes the condition 'in the event you cheat, nada!' than fairly the deal should work both ways, and this statement sort of sends up red flags to me. It is also best to define cheating, because you don't want porn pop-ups on your computer causing someone to leave with your stuff.

Don't forget to include provisions for acrimonious divorce, children (even accidents) and money you earn. It would suck if he frittered his 4 million and your later career was leeched because he went bankrupt. This should be approached like a business partnership (pretend you and he were opening a flower shop, to remove some of the emotional charge).

Read the pre nup. Read it many times. Do not be afraid to argue terms. While you probably have no reason to want to pry his $4 million out of his control (and it’s just money, so who cares!) make sure that you don’t sign anything that boxes you into uncomfortable territory.

Pre nups may also cover things like how you educate future children and under what religion (if any) and so on. Why not work out these sort of details while you’re at it?
posted by Phalene at 2:14 PM on October 6, 2007

Huh. You're being asked to sign a contract, the terms of which have (to your fiance's mind) already been decided, but you haven't been seen it yet? Odd.

Hopefully writing a pre-nup would be a conversation between both partners, an expression of your shared expectations, and a chance to clarify issues that are rife for later misunderstanding (e.g. what's treated as "unfaithful" under the contract -- if he ever wanted a divorce, would it allow him to just hire someone to walk up and lay a kiss on you so he can walk away with all of the assets that you two built together??) or sources of tension (e.g. are both partners held to fair, healthy, mutual standards, or does it for instance make you the one primarily responsible for keeping the marriage happy?).

I don't mean to impugne your fiance by raising such questions, because he may have good intentions in all this, or may just be looking for some way to relieve normal insecurities and pre-wedding jitters. However it sounds like communication between you two is not as strong as it could be, if right now his lawyer knows more than you do about what your fiance envisions for your life together.

It's very reasonable to request a complete copy, now, while you're looking for a lawyer who can walk you through the document, answer questions, etc.

To be clear, in the US a notary is not any alternative type of legal counselor. Notaries are not legal advisors, or contract reviewers, or whatever you were picturing as potentially useful for you here. The notary just witnesses the signing of your pre-nup (or whatever other doc), verifying that you were the person who actually signed it. Rarely does a notary even read the document in question; the content of a document is pretty much irrelevant to their job.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:15 PM on October 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I requested that my now-husband pay for the lawyer's fees by writing me checks in advance that I put into my account. That way he footed the bill for a legal process he required and I had the decision-making power over who to hire, paying on time, etc. For comparison, our pre-nup cost "me" about +$3k, and Mr. Cocoa some ridiculously small percentage of his assets. Given the differences in your assets, and where that might leave you should you divorce, I think it's important that you not come to the marriage with fewer assets than you already have. Just because he currently pays for a lot of stuff is not enough reason to draw down your total life savings for something he is asking for and can easily afford.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:36 PM on October 6, 2007

the infidelity clause suggests to me that he does not expect the marriage to last, and that he anticipates binding you to him by his wealth after you are no longer bound to him by your love. that's something for you to think about before you say "i do." what penalty is provided for his infidelity, and is there any way you can negotiate additional prohibitions, such as pornography and strip clubs? his reaction to this overture would be telling.
posted by bruce at 4:50 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

His net worth is 4 million. My net worth is 5K.

If he did not ask I would be surprised. If you are aggressive you can negotiate a term limit (after fifteen years of marriage is terminates etc.) which might be fair. A lot of marriages tank after 5 to 10 years and it really would seem unfair in such situation for you to take half his wealth or whatever. Get a lawyer, but not an aggressive jerk, someone reasonable. The request is reasonable and so would by yours to establish some limits. If he is really in love with you he will be reasonable too. By the way, pay for your own lawyer, it is the best way to make sure your lawyer puts your interests first.
posted by caddis at 5:59 PM on October 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Huh, even giving up half...well, $2M is still a lot of money.

I would ask that you please please please heed the great advice above. Please make sure this contract is NOT one-sided.

(The fidelity thing is creepy. A pre-nup is supposed to cover the circumstances under which a marriage will proceed and what happens if it fails. That there might be different outcomes depending on what circumstances cause the failure seems small-minded. To me it would be similar if the clause was you "get nothing" if you fail to provide a male heir within five years or won't do "whatever it takes" to arouse the ardor of the other party.)

Yes, he should pay for your attorney, and not with post-dated checks, either. If this doesn't work out, his being out $3000 isn't even going to make a dent in his bottom line, to you it would be a huge setback. Knowing you'll be out of pocket if this doesn't work out puts a lot of pressure on you to accept a bad contract.

Please be careful.
posted by maxwelton at 8:57 PM on October 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

If he only had $5k, you would not be getting a prenup. His wealth is the reason you are getting one, so he should be paying for it.

And that infidelity clause really creeped me out. How long does that last? Imagine you've been married twenty five years and raised three children together. The marriage disintegrates and he stops paying any attention to you whatsoever, until you are so starved for affection that you have an affair. Do you really think that you should get nothing in this case?
posted by happyturtle at 10:17 AM on October 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Look around. You can probably find someone in your area to do it for $100. Pay the attorney.
posted by dios at 12:38 PM on October 8, 2007

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