Marriage is an exciting milestone in many people’s lives, but for an increasing number of millennials, it’s also an opportunity to talk break-ups.
According to research, more millennials in North America are getting prenuptial agreements before walking down the aisle. A recent U.S. survey found that an increasing number of young adults are requesting prenups through lawyers to cover things like protection of property, spousal support and division of assets.
Toronto-based family lawyer Rick Peticca says the same trend is happening in Canada.
Peticca, who is a lawyer at Shulman Law Firm, says he’s seeing more millennials asking for prenups and cohabitation agreements. Peticca says this trend has increased over the last five years or so.
“While I cannot comment on overall Canadian statistics on prenups, I can tell you that at Shulman Law Firm, the files that are marriage contracts are almost all exclusively millennials,” he told Global News.
Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and author of Cheat on Your Husband (With Your Husband), echoes Peticca’s experience, and says she’s noticed more couples seeking legal agreements.
“People pursuing [prenups] recognize that some marriages don’t last forever,” Syrtash told Global News. “And [they] want to be protected if their relationship doesn’t work out.”
Why are millennials asking for prenups?
It may seem surprising that a generation commonly portrayed as being financially strapped is pushing for prenups. But according to experts, there are some good reasons as to why.
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“[There are] several reasons which may explain the rise in prenups,” Peticca said. “Millennials are staying in school and working longer than 30 to 40 years ago, and so they are acquiring more wealth and income before getting married or cohabiting in a long-term relationship.”
Peticca said that millennials may also inherit more intra-generational wealth, either through their parents or grandparents. (The rise of parents and grandparents passing on “living inheritances” is an example of this trend.)
He says that times are changing, too, and the way in which people approach relationships is shifting. These days, people are concerned with protecting their assets since they are well aware that divorce rates are high.
“With the increase in divorce rates over the last 40 to 50 years, the prevalence of growing up and being immersed in divorce has conditioned millennials to think differently about relationships and planning for an ‘exit strategy,’” Peticca explained.
“With the age of the internet and accessibility to information, millennials are more knowledgeable on how to approach relationships from a ‘risk-management’ point of view.”
What should a prenup entail?
Put simply, a prenup is a written agreement made between a couple before they marry. It outlines who is entitled to what should a divorce occur, and how assets will be divided.
According to Susan O’Brien, senior vice-president and senior wealth adviser at BMO Nesbitt Burns, it’s important for couples to talk about their financial status and discuss their money goals as a couple. This talk should come before they say “I do.”
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“When you’re in a relationship with someone, you talk about all your hopes and dreams for tomorrow, and what your life is going to look like and how wonderful it’s going to be,” O’Brien told Global News. “[But] you also have to get down to the business part of the relationship — and prenups come under that business part.”
O’Brien says that you and your partner should determine how you want to protect your individual assets, debt, shared properties, investments and even things like life insurance policies.
“It’s not just about what I have is mine and what you have is yours; it’s also about the growth of those assets,” she added.
How to talk about prenups
Experts say it can be hard to talk about prenups — especially at the beginning of a relationship. Syrtash says that even if conversations around money and assets are uncomfortable, they are important.
“The reality is that many uncomfortable topics — like debt, family dynamics, religion, sex — should be brought to the table before marriage so you and your partner can feel aligned… before going into the long-term partnership,” she said.
“When you approach the prenup conversation, say it in the spirit of wanting to be honest and on the same page about many uncomfortable topics, including that one.”
Syrtash said instead of coldly asserting your needs, start a conversation about why a prenup is important to you. She said that it’s crucial to let your partner know you don’t imagine divorce happening, but want to cover all bases since you know what can happen when couples aren’t financially prepared.
“If you get resistance, ask your partner if she or he is willing to speak with a financial specialist or counsellor about it since it’s important to you,” she added.
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O’Brien says as a wealth adviser, she is often that third party who addresses prenups. She says that she introduces many clients to the idea of a prenup when they’re in her office talking about financial planning, which includes investing and mortgages.
If a client is in a serious relationship that could result in marriage, she says that it’s important for them to talk openly about their financial goals with both her and their partner.
It’s important to note, however, that not every couple wants a prenup, Syrtash said. “Prenups are not important in every marriage, but my general relationship rule is if something is important to one person in a relationship, it’s important,” Syrtash said.
If you and your partner do decide to get a prenup, O’Brien says it’s vital that a lawyer handles the contract to ensure all is sound. She also advises that both parties seek independent counsel to look over any documents. That way, each person can feel comfortable with the agreement.
While couples hope they should never need their prenups, the comfort they offer is invaluable, O’Brien says.
“They really give that peace of mind, like car insurance,” she said. “You hope to never use it, but it’s there.”