Marriage agreements are contracts signed by couples either before they marry or shortly afterwards. Most marriage agreements are drafted and signed well ahead of the date of marriage, and that kind of timing is usually a very good idea. Marriage agreements are usually intended to deal with the legal issues if the marriage breaks down, but they can also deal with how day-to-day things will be handled during the marriage.
This section discusses when and why marriage agreements are usually entered into, the legal requirements of a valid marriage agreement, and the possible subjects of a marriage agreement.
While a couple might enter into a marriage agreement with the intention of addressing things that could happen during the course of their marriage, more typically these agreements are intended to address the issues that will arise if the marriage breaks down. Marriage agreements are binding on the parties as a legal contract. They may be enforced by the courts if someone tries to escape or change an obligation they have agreed to.
Most couples who marry do not have a marriage agreement. It is important to note that there is no legal requirement that you must enter into such an agreement if you’re getting married. You cannot be forced into a marriage agreement.
Marriage agreements are usually appropriate when:
- one or both of the parties have a substantial amount of property going into the marriage,
- one of the parties expects to acquire substantial property during the marriage, through, for example, a business, an inheritance, a settlement or court award, or a gift,
- the parties want to avoid some of the stress and anger that can come after separation by deciding in advance how certain difficult issues, like the division of family property and family debt, will be dealt with,
- one or both of the parties experienced an ugly court battle leaving a previous relationship,
- one or both of the parties will be bringing children from a previous relationship into the marriage, or
- one of the parties is entering the marriage with substantial debt.