And prenuptial agreements are not the instruments of evil that manynaysayers claim them to be.
In the late 1800s, along with countless other Eastern European Jewishfamilies, my great-grandparents arrived in this country and struggled tomake a comfortable life for their family. They settled in St. Louis andwent into the business of making and selling jewelry. My great-grandmotherkept the books, my great-grandfather made the jewelry. They were scrupulousabout finances, and they were able to accrue significant savings.
The money they earned was carefully invested and safeguarded within thefamily 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 abouta promise that she had made to her mother--that my brother and I would signprenuptial agreements, no matter who we married, in order to protect mygreat-grandparents' savings for future generations.
When I discussed the matter with Daniel, he balked at first. If we ever gotdivorced, he said, he would be so devastated, the last thing he would careabout would be money. I said, "I know. I don't think our marriage will everend. Our commitment is forever. But this has nothing to do with who youare or who I am. My great-grandmother was afraid of one thing when she wasalive--that a stupid mistake would bring her family back to the poverty underwhich she had suffered. We'd do this to honor her."
Daniel agreed to sign the document, after long conversations with me, mymother, 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 prenupdominates your mental picture of your marriage, something else iswrong--something that would not be remedied by the absence of the document.
But there was a complicating factor even after Daniel agreed to sign theagreement. We had observed Daniel's parents become extremely upset whenDaniel's cousin had signed a prenup before her marriage to a wealthybusinessman. We became worried that his parents would sour to the idea ofour marriage if they knew we had a prenuptial agreement. There was thelikely possibility that if we even broached the subject, things between uswould never be the same again.
Daniel was, rightly, unwilling to sign the agreement and not tell hisparents. But it left my mother torn between two cherished values--the valueof ensuring that her daughter would have a loving relationship with herin-laws, and the value of honoring a promise made to her family years ago.
She chose the former.
She said that she had decided that my future relationship with Daniel'sparents was not something that she took lightly and was not something shewas willing to risk. She told me she trusted us both to honor mygreat-grandparents' memory--and their intentions for their money--in ourmarriage. Ultimately, she felt satisfied with the decision, but it was atorturous one for her to make.
This is why I object to Rabbi Boteach's overly simplistic characterizationthat prenuptial agreements represent a couple's choice of money over love.In our case, we were forced to choose between loves--the love andrespect I have for my great-grandparents, and Daniel's love for his parents.
I realize that we were fortunate that our love for each other was not throwninto this mix; too often, as Boteach points out, each partner finds him- orherself on a different side of the battle line. But even though we decidednot to have a prenuptial agreement, I can't agree that our decision to haveone would have represented anything more than our humble recognition thatsometimes money is not ours to gamble.