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I would never get married without a prenup — even though mine didn't protect me during my divorce

I would never get married without a prenup — even though mine didn't protect me during my divorce
  • I got married in 2008 and, thanks to my mom, signed a prenup to protect my inheritance.

  • The prenup said my husband couldn't use the money to pay for school.

  • We used the money for a house, and I learned that my prenup didn't protect me from having to split that 50-50.

This is part of our series Splitting the Difference, which examines the financial lives of couples.

Never forget that marriage was originally intended to be a business relationship between two men in power: the bride's father and the husband-to-be.

The change in ideas around marriage to reflect an emotional relationship does not negate the business partnership, even if brides are no longer sold with a dowry to the most advantageous match.

You may love your spouse-to-be, sure, but unless otherwise specified, what's theirs is now yours and what's yours is now theirs.

Unless you get a prenup.

I have two pieces of marital advice, not that anyone asks me now that I'm happily divorced: Use separate comforters in bed, and get a prenup that fully protects you, even if you don't think your assets are worth much.

But with a prenup, you might not be protected. I learned that the hard way.

I got a prenup in 2008

I got married right out of grad school and had a Master of Arts in teaching but did not yet have a job. My assets were a 2005 Subaru Forester, an orange cat, and nearly $200,000 in a trust fund from my deceased grandfather.

That seemed like an extraordinary amount of money to me then, but I still balked when my mother hired a lawyer to write up a prenup. I can't say exactly why my mom was so dead set on the prenup, but I guess she figured it couldn't hurt to protect me financially. I agreed with her that there was no harm in the prenup.

My future ex-husband had no assets except the cat, which was shared property. He was planning to go to dental school, however, which had a $200,000 price tag. My prenup ensured that my money could not be used to cover his school costs.

Too bad the reality of two people living on one teacher's salary made that impossible. However, I was careful and used my "grandpa money" only on living expenses. Loans covered tuition. We still had a little more than half of my money at the end of dental school and used the entirety of it to put a down payment on our first home, which was in both our names, with the understanding that his salary would cover the mortgage and most other bills. At the time, it felt like the stars were aligned: My money ensured we could get a mortgage, and his new job ensured that we could pay it.

Woman sitting in a room looking out the window.
Leah Nash for BI

My husband and I got divorced

After we'd lived in the house for seven years, in summer 2020, he told me he wanted a divorce. He initially said he wanted to sell the house and split the profits. I didn't love this idea once I found out that, without his income as a dentist and with me being out of work because of the pandemic, I couldn't qualify for a mortgage. I had a few options, but I didn't like any of them: I could hold up our divorce until I had a job long enough to get a loan or be able to afford to rent somewhere. I could ask for the house in the divorce settlement. Or my ex could become my landlord.

I asked my lawyer to invoke my prenup so I could get more money from the house sale, and she informed me it was invalidated. I'd spent the money on shared marital property, which was owned 50-50, and the prenup said I was protected only from the money going to tuition or paying off his student loans.

When it came time to negotiate our divorce, emotions were running high. I wanted to keep us out of court for my mental health and financial reasons. Against my lawyer's advice, I sat with my ex in our backyard after the kids went to bed. I said, "We are dissolving our business contract. I'm not here to talk about our emotional contract. I'm only talking about numbers."

Multiple times throughout that conversation, he began to get emotional. Every time he did, I stood up to leave. I know this sounds cold on my part. But the emotional relationship died the minute he told me he wanted a divorce. When he told me he didn't want to be married anymore, it felt like I was snapping out of a trance or waking up from a dream. The love spell broke. Emotions were only going to confuse me. I shut them off for the hourlong conversation. My feelings were no longer for him. We were now only business associates with shared marital property, namely the house and the kids. We no longer had pets.

We came to a tentative agreement, which was fleshed out over the next few weeks by our lawyers. We sold the house, and I got enough money from the sale and spousal support to pay rent.

We were officially divorced by the end of the year, but my prenup did nothing to protect me. I would have financially protected myself for more scenarios in the prenup if I could have seen into the future. Prenups can arrange for a "refund" if the marriage doesn't work out, where one person pays a lump sum to the other as written in the prenup. I could have stipulated that my money was returned to me in the case of divorce.

I might never have spent the "grandpa money," instead taking out loans for living expenses, as many grad students do. I would have had us rent until we could afford the house without my money, keeping my account as a safety net. Of course, if I had known my fate, I would never have married the man.

Get a prenup. As you do, think of yourself as equity, not someone in love. Save the love for the ceremony. Save yourself with your prenup.

Read the original article on Business Insider