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Couple Talks Up Pre-Nuptual Agreements

May 29, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ After going through a messy divorce, New York attorney Arlene G. Dubin decided she wouldn’t let that happen again.

So before she and Bud Rosenthal, a marketing consultant in the motion picture industry, were married in 1990, the two signed a prenuptial agreement, a private legal contract that details the financial aspects of their relationship.

Dubin and her husband are so pleased with the agreement that they keep it in a Tiffany bowl _ along with her dried wedding bouquet and other mementoes _ in their living room.

``It’s a common misperception that wanting a ‘prenup’ is a sign you don’t trust your partner,″ said Dubin, a partner in the Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal law firm. ``In fact, a prenup can be a way to show how much you trust each other, because economic intimacy leads to emotional intimacy.

``You can’t talk about money without talking about other personal issues.″

Dubin, the author of ``Prenups for Lovers _ A Romantic Guide to Prenuptial Agreements,″ said prenups traditionally were negotiated by the wealthy or by people getting married for a second time and interested in preserving money for children from an earlier marriage.

Increasingly, however, young couples planning weddings as well as couples who don’t plan to marry are writing them, she said.

``Young people are getting married later than they used to, so they can have assets like retirement accounts, a car and an apartment,″ Dubin said. ``Often there are big debts, student loans and credit card debt, and they have to decide how those are going to be paid off. Or, maybe, one or the other expects an inheritance.″

Debbie Cox, a wealth adviser with J.P. Morgan Private Bank in Dallas, believes everyone considering marriage should also consider a prenup.

``The prenup determines who owns what at death or divorce,″ she said. ``It allows your head to catch up with your heart. The worst time to find out what’s going to happen is when the marriage ends.″

Although couples have been known to include such lifestyle questions as whether they will have children or who will cook and take out the garbage, Cox believes the contracts should be restricted to financial and property matters to make them more enforceable in court.

Each contract is different, depending on the individuals’ circumstances, she said. But in general, they cover issues such as who will get what at death or divorce, how bills will be paid, how a stay-at-home partner will be compensated and how a family business or inheritance will be handled.

Cox, who has a prenuptial agreement with her husband of 14 years, also notes they can be updated if a couple’s circumstances change.

The Equality in Marriage Institute, a nonprofit group that aims to help people build strong relationships, found from a survey conducted late last year there are still many misconceptions about prenuptial agreements.

The survey found, for example, that more than 40 percent of respondents believe prenups protect the partner with the most assets, and more than 65 percent wouldn’t even consider negotiating one.

``When you’re getting married, you’re already signing a legal agreement,″ said Courtney D. Knowles, spokesman for the group. ``Isn’t it smart, then, to write down what you and your partner decide about your finances? It’s not an adversarial tool. It’s not to protect one party. It’s being responsible.″

The institute, which was founded by Lorna Wendt after she went through a bruising divorce battle with Gary Wendt, former chief executive of General Electric Capital, encourages couples to at least discuss financial issues before they walk down the aisle, even if they don’t sign a contract.

The institute publishes a 28-page booklet called ``The Commitment Conversation″ to help get those talks going _ and to develop a base for a prenup. The guidebook can be downloaded for free at www.equalityinmarriage.org. Paper copies can be ordered at the site for $15.

All the experts emphasize that prenups should be negotiated well in advance of the wedding, certainly not in the car on the way to the ceremony.

And they encourage couples to hire lawyers _ one for each person _ to ensure that neither is disadvantaged in the agreement.

___

On the Net:

Dubin’s site: www.prenupbook.com

www.jpmorgan.com

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