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Should Christians Get Prenuptial Agreements?

I’m engaged, and my fiancé wants a prenup. But we’re both Christians – and we both believe that marriage should be permanent. (At least, I thought we did.) A prenuptial agreement feels like we’re opening the door to divorce. Am I missing something?
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It’s not a bad thing that your fiancé’s request has stirred up feelings of uncertainty.

We know it’s uncomfortable, but the good news is that it’s brought to light something that’s critical to deal with before moving forward. And that gives you the opportunity to continue learning about each other and what you envision for marriage. Strong communication is essential as you and your fiancé consider a future together.

So, are you missing something? The answer isn’t a straightforward yes or no. It all comes down to motive.

True, the standard prenup most folks are familiar with is an agreed-on contract created before marriage that spells out how money and possessions will be divided if the couple divorces. However, there are limited instances where a prenuptial agreement might be justified.

We’ll get to the details. But they’ll make more sense if we start with a solid understanding of marriage.

God’s design for marriage

Here at Focus on the Family, we believe that marriage is intended by God to be a thriving, lifelong relationship between a man and a woman enduring through trials, sickness, financial crises, and emotional stresses. (And we believe that’s true whether or not a couple has a personal relationship with Christ.)

When a man and woman get married, they become one flesh. Yes, it’s about the body — but it also includes feelings, food, shelter, economics, possessions, and all the other things people need to survive in this world. To be one flesh is to share all of this in common.

Bottom line: Marriage should embrace every part of life — mental, emotional, moral, spiritual, economic, physical, and sexual. That merging of life and all that a husband and wife share in it is the best path for marriage.

With this in mind, it’s clear that a prenup based on a yours and mine mentality doesn’t lead to a happy, healthy marriage.

When marriage is a contract instead of a covenant

The kind of prenuptial agreement most of us think of turns a marriage into a contract instead of a covenant. Rather than affirming a one-flesh union, it suggests that a husband and wife are more like business partners, each protecting their own interests without fully trusting the other.

Those lines of thinking obviously have no place in a healthy relationship that’s moving toward marriage.

Marriage isn’t a 50/50 contract that says, I’ll do my part if you do your part. It’s a 100/100 covenant between a husband and a wife where each one willingly sacrifices their own self-interest for the interest of the other.

Marriage is both spouses giving their all and realizing there will be times when one must carry a greater load than the other. In other words, as author Gary Thomas points out, “We have to stop asking of marriage what God never designed it to give — perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession.”

So, is it possible to believe that marriage is a life-long covenant and still want a prenuptial agreement? Absolutely. As we mentioned, there are limited instances that could call for a prenup. The real question is what’s the motive for getting one.

Is there ever a legitimate motive for a prenup?

We don’t know how old you and your fiancé are. One thing to keep in mind is that there’s a difference between people marrying for the first time in their 20s and people marrying later in life or going into a second or third marriage.

In instances of the latter, blended families and already-started business ventures can create unique financial situations that need to be addressed with explicit care. There, a prenuptial agreement could be a wise way to avoid future financial and legal headaches, particularly where extended family is involved. (Although, a joint trust might have the same benefit without creating disharmony in the marriage relationship. People should consult Christian legal counsel for input.)

Legitimate issues that might warrant a prenup include:

However, a prenup should never be driven by emotions such as:

  • Fear of being taken advantage of.
  • Negative experiences with money or lack of financial security.
  • Residual hurt, pain, or anger from a previous marriage.
  • Desire for control.
  • Honest-to-goodness selfishness.

Those lists aren’t exhaustive, of course. The key to figuring out where your relationship stands is to learn what’s driving your fiancé’s request — whether his motivation for a prenup is legitimate. And that’ll take an honest, direct discussion.

How to work through the suggestion of a prenup

At this point, only your fiancé knows what he’s thinking. He could have legitimate grounds for wanting a prenuptial agreement, or he might be dealing with issues from his past that keep him from completely trusting you and committing to the relationship. If that’s the case, a legal document won’t solve the problem.

The two of you need to have a deeper conversation — and we strongly encourage you to do that with the help of a licensed counselor or mentor couple in a premarital counseling setting. Don’t go this alone.

Why not? Counselors and trained mentors teach skills and offer insights that will help you gain a realistic view of marriage and each other. It’s not about digging up that one thing that cancels the wedding (though it is important to pay attention to red flags). It’s about helping you understand and set a foundation for a life together when it comes to:

  • Communication and conflict management skills.
  • Core values and differences.
  • Communication styles and needs.
  • Teamwork.
  • A sense of shared meaning.

Discussing a prenuptial agreement certainly falls into these categories.

Ask your fiancé to help you understand where he’s coming from. And share that a prenup makes you feel the marriage would be starting on shaky ground. If he can’t trust you with his money, how will he trust you with his life or, perhaps one day, with his children?

It’s possible to be candid about money and finances without creating a prenup. How? Talk. Talk about what money means to each of you, good and bad: family history, childhood experiences, financial training, spending habits, and financial goals. Identify each other’s money personality and do a money dump.

Nothing should be off limits, including feelings. How both of you choose to handle this issue and respond to what’s revealed is more important than any solution. Part of that will also mean gently broaching any relational wounds your fiancé might be trying to patch over instead of heal. A prenup can be a way of pretending not to have to deal with those hurt places.

It could also be a way (even though misguided) to protect you. For example, one of the most common reasons for a prenup with first-time marriages is student debt. If you’re both young, maybe your fiancé has a lot of debt and is afraid to burden you.

Find out. Set aside solid time where you each can express your heart and work toward deeper understanding of one another and the issue of a prenup. Remind and reinforce to each other the truth about marriage: that everything you bring to the union and thereafter earn or accumulate belongs to you both. When you marry, you go from me to we.

If you believe your fiancé’s request is legitimate, continue the discussion with the help of a Christian counselor as well as a Christian lawyer.

On the other hand, if you still have doubts, keep talking — to each other and to your counselor or mentor couple. In a strong marriage, there’s no place for mistrust or unwillingness to be vulnerable.

The prenup isn’t the primary concern

In the end, while the question of a prenuptial agreement should be addressed, it isn’t the primary concern.

What’s far more important is making sure you both are ready to fully commit to and trust one another. In most situations, a man and woman who are devoted to God and each other won’t need a prenuptial agreement.

And what about when hard times come?

Let’s be honest: We’re all sinners. So yes, marriage will have difficult moments and seasons. When that happens, we have a choice: Look out for our own interests, or turn toward each other with Christ’s help and remember that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV).

Want to talk more?

We know this is a lot to think about. We realize, too, that your initial question might be just the tip of the iceberg and you need a safe place to talk about deeper issues. In fact, financial coach Chris Hogan says, “In my years of coaching couples, I’ve discovered that money fights are rarely about green pieces of paper. Something deeper is usually boiling beneath the surface.”

Would you let us come alongside you? Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be glad to help in any way they can. They can also suggest referrals to qualified counselors and Christian therapists in your area. In the meantime, dig into the recommended resources below.

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Ready to Wed

From Me to We

9 Must-Have Conversations for a Doubt-Free Wedding Day

Practical Advice for Those Getting Ready to Wed

Helping Engaged Couples Become More We-Focused

Sacred Marriage

Embracing God’s Desire for Your Marriage

Essentials of Finance Marriage Bundle

Articles

God’s Design for Marriage

Preparing for Marriage

12 Ways to Start a Marriage You Will Love

Get on the Same Financial Page With Your Spouse

Marriage and Money

Copyright © 2020, Focus on the Family.

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