Signing on for Life...and Love

Prenuptial agreements are a complex issue, and there's more than one reason for doing them

BY: Joanne Greene

In his Beliefnet column on prenuptial agreements, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says, "Those who insist on prenuptial agreements are more interested in money than in love." I couldn't agree less with this black-and-white thinking. Marriage is not about choosing either money or love; it's about negotiating a terrain of values and sometimes making difficult choices.

And prenuptial agreements are not the instruments of evil that many naysayers claim them to be.

In the late 1800s, along with countless other Eastern European Jewish families, my great-grandparents arrived in this country and struggled to make a comfortable life for their family. They settled in St. Louis and went into the business of making and selling jewelry. My great-grandmother kept the books, my great-grandfather made the jewelry. They were scrupulous about finances, and they were able to accrue significant savings.

The money they earned was carefully invested and safeguarded within the family when my grandmother, their daughter, married, and again when my mother married my father in 1969, in both instances with a prenuptial agreement. That money paid my college tuition. It paid for summer trips when my brother and I were children. I never knew it existed.

But when I became engaged to Daniel, my now-husband, my mother told me about a promise that she had made to her mother--that my brother and I would sign prenuptial agreements, no matter who we married, in order to protect my great-grandparents' savings for future generations.

When I discussed the matter with Daniel, he balked at first. If we ever got divorced, he said, he would be so devastated, the last thing he would care about would be money. I said, "I know. I don't think our marriage will ever end. Our commitment is forever. But this has nothing to do with who you are or who I am. My great-grandmother was afraid of one thing when she was alive--that a stupid mistake would bring her family back to the poverty under which she had suffered. We'd do this to honor her."

Daniel agreed to sign the document, after long conversations with me, my mother, and my father
--who had experienced his own reservations about signing a prenup. My father said that my grandfather had told him two simple things to assuage his concerns.

First, he said, the prenuptial agreement is a piece of paper that you sign, put in a safe-deposit box, and never look at again. If having a prenup dominates your mental picture of your marriage, something else is wrong--something that would not be remedied by the absence of the document.

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