Getting married and starting a family is an exciting part of the Jewish life cycle. Although a thrilling time, it is important that the happy couple also be prudent and thoughtful when taking this momentous step, as there are many issues Jewish couples and their families should consider before vows are exchanged.
I will first address the issue of the prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement, known colloquially as a prenup, is an agreement couples anticipating marriage can enter into which clearly outlines expectations for the marriage and its possible dissolution. Prenups are not something couples are generally enthusiastic about when planning their wedding, but they can help initiate important conversations and solidify partner and family expectations.
If your family owns a business, for instance, in which the bride or groom-to-be holds a financial interest, it is prudent to protect those business interests with a prenup. In addition to businesses, prenups can also help protect inheritances or family gifts. If the purpose of an inheritance or gift is stated clearly in a prenup, they could be protected in the event of a divorce.
Non-Martial and Marital Money
In addition to documenting intentions in a prenup, it is important to keep non-marital accounts separate from marital money and to only use non-marital funds to maintain non-marital property. If one partner receives an inheritance, for example, they should not put the money they receive into a marital account or mix marital money with the inheritance money. The best way to ensure the inheritance maintains its non-marital character is to keep it in a separate account and use non-marital funds to maintain the account. Doing this makes it is easier to argue the character of the asset in the case of a dissolution because comingling marital assets with non-marital assets can make tracing the non-marital portion more difficult to prove. Also, make sure to maintain records of all financial statements prior to the marriage so that financials can be traced back to the date of the marriage, and so you can prove and have returned to you what you brought into the marriage.
Moving on from financial considerations, it is essential to also consider family and child issues prior to marriage. It is essential to have conversations as a couple and with your families to address expectations as to how your children will be raised. If you are entering into an interfaith marriage and you want to raise your children Jewish, that would be helpful to address prior to marriage and can also be detailed in a prenup. Even if both people are Jewish, if certain aspects of Judaism are important to one or the other in raising children, put it in writing. Is it important for the child to have a bar/bat mitzvah? Be confirmed? Go to religious school? Be reform, conservative, orthodox, etc.? Keep kosher? Belong to a certain synagogue? Preferences may change, but setting expectations at the onset of the marriage can be helpful in making future decisions regardless of whether the marriage stays in tact.
Prenups are not for everyone, but they can be an effective tool to outline expectations prior to making one of the biggest decisions in a person’s life. Anyone interested in entering into a prenup should consult with a family law attorney.