Prenuptial agreement. It has a notorious ring to it, isn’t it? It sounds so unromantic, cold, calculated, even unbiblical. Why, when we marry someone, don’t we promise for richer and poorer? Why do I need a prenuptial agreement?
Now, I’m not a legal nor financial expert, but I have done some research regarding this topic when I decided to get married at the ripe age of mid thirties. What I’m writing here is according to the law in Indonesia and for women only, I don’t know how it is in any other country or how the law is for men.
Let me first say this: though people would say I’m a very logical and calculated woman, I DID NOT approve on having prenuptial agreement. I thought it was lame, especially since I am a Catholic, which means that when I marry someone, it would be till death do us part, because Catholic Church doesn’t allow or recognize divorce. A Catholic can only get married in the Church once, unless the spouse passed away. So, having a contract that states who will get what after a divorce is unthinkable, and doesn’t seem like the right thing to do in showing your serious intention to get married to this man until the day you die.
That’s what my understanding of prenuptial agreement was: a contract stated who will get what in a case of a divorce.
I was wrong.
I started to see a prenup in different light after I had a conversation with a female colleague at my previous office. She is a Catholic, has been married more than ten years with a son, and yes, she has a happy marriage to a good man who is a successful businessman. She stayed at home after her son was born, and just got back to work when her son started junior high school. She told me that a prenup is not only about what happens in case of a divorce. It can protect the family from financial ruins during the marriage itself. So a prenup is also about what happens to a couple who stay married and do NOT have any intention whatsoever to get a divorce. How come?
She explained: “My husband has his own business. That means that he’s always on financial risks. Risk of cannot paying off a debt, risk of being cheated by a customer, or a partner, risk of bankruptcy, etc. Without a prenup, everything that belong to him or to me can be legally confiscated to pay off his business misfortune, should anything like that happen. And it did happen once, during the early stage of his business. His partner ran away, leaving him with substantial debts. The creditors were after my husband, since they couldn’t find his partner. He had to sold off his car and the apartment he bought before we got married, then working very hard to pay off the rest. But the creditors and the banks couldn’t take away our house, since it was under my name, and we had a prenuptial agreement of separate ownership. Had I had no prenup, they could legally seize the house too, and we would have ended up homeless then. And I just had our son at that time.”
“But if the house was under YOUR name, and not HIS, surely it belonged to you? They couldn’t have taken it, could they?” I challenged her.
She took a long, hard look at me. “You think just like I did before I learned about the law of ownership for a married woman. You need to do some research. Ask a notary for legal advice, you will get a much better explanation.”
I did. And I found some very interesting, as well as terrifying facts. I realized then, that even though I consider myself well educated, and I had a good job in finance, and had some sense of how a business run and how to manage money, I didn’t know much about law that is pertinent to my daily livelihood, and it might have caused me A LOT of potential disasters in the future.
I found that…
A single woman can do whatever she is well pleased with what is legally her own. That means, everything under her very own name: saving account, bond, CD, property, mutual funds, gold bar, car, inheritance, etc. She can buy and sell a house. She can squander her inheritance from a parent or a rich aunt if she chooses to do so. She doesn’t need anyone’s permission to make any financial decisions whatsoever.
Once a woman gets married, legally everything she owns, everything, automatically also belong to her husband, and should the husband deceased, automatically belong to the heir apparent. No matter when or how she got it.
So the car that you bought with your hard-earned salary five years before you met your husband, now also belongs to him.
The little house with the cute rose garden that you inherited from your parents, and therefore is under YOUR name, now also belongs to him. Ow, and that sapphire ring from your Mom that has been passed down from your great grandmother, too.
Your husband bought a house for you and your children, and as a token of his love he made the house deed under your name? It still also belongs to him, though his name doesn’t appear on the legal papers.
What does it mean, also belong to him? It means, you can have it, you can use it, you can live in it, BUT you cannot sell it, or make any financial decisions about it, without your husband’s seal of approval and signature, because your marriage has made everything you own – before and after marriage - becomes legally his.
Now, what’s wrong with that? You are married, afterall. You own everything together. That’s the point, rite. You share everything. Your life and your material possessions, as well.
That’s right. It also means you two also share each other’s debts and financial problems, occurred before AND after marriage.
Let’s say your husband is a business owner. What would happen if one of his biggest costumers doesn’t pay him? Or his partner cheated on him and run away with all the company’s money? Or his partner suddenly disappear, leaving a substantial amount of debts your husband never knew existed, and now the banks and creditors are pounding on his door because they couldn’t find his partner? Or for whatever reason, his company got sued? Or declared bankruptcy?
The fact that once you’re married everything you own also belong him, similarly means, everything under YOUR name can be confiscated to pay off his debts, and the debts of the company he owns. Yup, the bank can take your house that is under YOUR name, that you got as inheritance from your parents, to pay off your husband’s debts.
The banks don’t care that it was his partner who cheated on him.
The creditors didn’t care that the debts occurred five years before you and your husband even knew each other, and it was a debt by his business partner.
They don’t care that the house was paid by YOUR parents and you have been living there for thirty years while your husband has only been living there for three years, that was after you two got married, and that the house deed in under YOUR name, not your husband’s. Once you’re married, everything you own is also his, remember?
That’s what my ex colleague tried to explain to me. A prenuptial agreement is basically just a binding, legal contract that could be used for many purposes, divorce or no divorce. Just like money can be used for many purposes, from buying a pretty clothes, to help someone in need, to bribe someone, or to deceive someone. Just like beauty can be used to glorify God, or to please people around you, or to lure men for your own personal gain. Like water, that can give life and make everything grow, or can be turned into a tsunami and storm or flood.
You can choose to use a prenuptial agreement to protect your family from unseen financial disasters and minimize any future potential financial risks. Just like the life insurance that you bought for your children, just in case anything should happen to you.
I condemned and judged BEFORE knowing all the facts. Not until I asked legal opinion did I knew that I had formed my opinions totally based on what I thought I knew and never bother to ask before.
If a person intends not to stay in marriage, he or she will do it anyway, with or without a prenuptial agreement. A prenup doesn’t make one less committed to the marriage. When you buy a life insurance, you don’t intend to die and leave your children next year or ten years down the road, rite? Anyone can die anytime if it is God’s will, with or without a life insurance, rite?
The Lord is our provider and protector, yes. But should we not also do our part?
Let’s say, there’s a young girl who walks home one evening, and she can choose two routes. One route is dark and unlit and close to a woods and she knew that nobody lives in that area. The other route is well lit and close to a nice neighborhood and there is a 24-hour convenient store and police station on her way. Which way should she choose?
She can pray for her safety and go through the dark route, believing that God will protect her.
She can also pray for her safety and go through the well lit route, believing that God will also protect her.
Remember Jesus’ parable about five wise women and five foolish ones? (You can read the verses here) Even HE said that the foolish, unprepared ones were not allowed to come in to the feast.
I don’t intend to imply that every couple who plan to get married should get a prenup. I just say that before you judge and condemn and decide that a prenup is not for you, keep an open mind and do your research. Talk to your notary for legal advice. Ask for all legal and financial consequences for having one and for not having one. If you did, and decide not to have a prenup, you have nothing to lose by asking. If you did, then do decide to get one, you will be glad you asked.
Also, here in Indonesia, a prenup can only be drawn before a marriage. Some people, who are clearly not in the law, convinced me that it could easily be made after the marriage. Luckily I asked around and found out that it’s not that easy. There was no legal basis for a post-nup. Of course, we know that there’s always a loophole in the law, but it can be contested in court, it’s risky, and it can be deemed void by any judge.
So if you do decide to do any legal research, make sure that you do it thoroughly. It’s no fun, but my husband and I were glad that we did what we think was, is right. You don’t need to feel bad, like feeling you don’t trust your spouse. I know that my husband can buy and sell a house behind my back. And he knows that I can do the same with any asset under my name, because I could do it without his signature. But we believe that none of us would do such cheating behind each other’s back, and we decide what to do with OUR assets, together, under his or my name. Now, isn’t that, Friends, trust? ^__^
Happy Valentine's Day, Everyone!
I was 18-weeks pregnant in the pictures. Very soon I will no longer able to wear this flowery skirt because the waist won't fit my evergrowing belly. ^_^
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