Prenuptial agreements (also known as prenups) can play a pivotal role in safeguarding individual spousal rights in the event of divorce and can also strengthen a marriage.
While prenups may offer significant benefits, improper execution of a prenup can lead to tension between couples. It can also cause legal disputes down the road should a couple ever need to turn to theirs.
To facilitate fairness and enforceability, it is, therefore, important first to understand the legal process to obtain a prenup in Washington state. Then, the reasons a prenuptial agreement can be one of the best gifts future spouses give each other.
Common Issues to Address in Washington Prenuptial Agreements
Prenuptial agreements in Washington state don’t cover everything, and they specifically do not cover child custody and child support. These issues are reserved for the courts to decide. Among the most common issues covered by Washington state prenuptial agreements are property ownership, spousal maintenance, and inheritance rights.
1. Property Ownership
Prenuptial agreements typically focus on property ownership between partners entering a marriage. Washington state is a community property state, meaning assets acquired during the marriage will be categorized as jointly owned, with exceptions made for inheritances and gifts. Assets acquired before the marriage will generally be categorized as separate. That said, couples have the option to draft a prenuptial agreement that alters this default status for some or all of their assets.
Attorneys specializing in prenuptial agreements can assist in drafting a prenup that clearly defines which property each spouse is bringing into the marriage and whether any of it should be considered community property as a result of marrying. Such clarity is particularly beneficial in instances of property division during a divorce, fostering a smoother process and minimizing conflicts.
2. Spousal Maintenance and Inheritance Rights
Prenuptial agreements can address other important issues in addition to property division. For example, couples can include provisions in their prenup to outline the type and amount of spousal maintenance they will pay in the event of a divorce. This, too, helps set clear expectations and avoid potential disputes in the future.
In blended families, prenuptial agreements can also serve as a means to protect the inheritance rights of children from previous marriages. By specifying the distribution of assets so that the intended beneficiaries receive their rightful share, couples can enjoy both financial security and peace of mind.
Judicial Treatment of Prenuptial Agreements
Given a couple might eventually require judicial intervention to enforce the terms of their prenuptial agreement, having a preliminary understanding of how Washington state courts treat prenups can be beneficial during the negotiation stage. While state statutes do not explicitly allow prenups to adjust or relinquish spousal rights, there exists a possibility for a judge to uphold agreements that do so according to a two-prong test for enforceability.
1. Fairness Review
The first prong of review examines whether the prenuptial agreement is fair in the eyes of the court, meaning whether it aligns with how a judge would rule in its absence. If a court determines that the agreement is fair, no further investigation would be required.
2. Voluntary and Knowing Agreement
If, however, a court finds the terms of the prenuptial agreement unfair, the prenup may still be enforced under the second prong of the test, which assesses whether the parties reached an agreement voluntarily and with full knowledge of its implications. Several factors can demonstrate a voluntary and knowing agreement, including:
- Each party having separate legal representation to protect their interests.
- Documented negotiations illustrating a mutual understanding and agreement on the prenuptial agreement’s terms.
- Complete disclosure of each party’s assets and liabilities for the sake of transparency.
- Execution of the prenuptial agreement well in advance of the marriage date, indicating informed decision-making.
When a prenuptial meets these requirements, it has a greater chance of being upheld in court, thereby providing couples with the protections they intended.
Reasons to Consider a Prenuptial Agreement
While enforcing a prenuptial contract can sometimes be challenging, the process of developing one offers valuable benefits to Washington state couples contemplating marriage. For starters, honest financial analysis during the prenup creation process helps uncover existing trust and equity issues within the relationship, preventing potential conflicts in the future. By doing so, couples have an opportunity to discuss their viewpoints as well as address or cure any sticking points, such as paying off pre-marital debt or arranging for its allocation before the wedding.
It is important to remember that a prenuptial agreement is a proactive measure to address potential areas of disagreement. The very process of creating a prenup encourages open communication, financial transparency, and mutual understanding and can foster a stronger foundation for a healthy and long-lasting marriage as a result.
What a prenuptial agreement is not is a predictor of divorce. However, it can help to avoid a contentious divorce in the event it comes to that. Raising the topic of a prenuptial agreement should, therefore, not be interpreted by either partner to be a sign of discord but, rather, dedication to their relationship.
Find a Washington state prenuptial agreements lawyer.
For couples wishing to outline their marital assets or address other important issues in their relationship, it is advisable to consult with an experienced Washington family lawyer who is well-versed in the legal requirements and considerations specific to the state.
A Washington state family law attorney can provide guidance in creating an effective prenuptial agreement or offer assistance in enforcing a previously established prenup. By seeking professional advice in the present, couples can rest easy knowing that their prenuptial agreement reflects their intentions and protects their rights in anticipation of them tying the knot. They can also make the knot they tie as strong and secure as possible in anticipation of enjoying a long and happy life together. Contact us at our Seattle office today.