Premarital and Postmarital Agreements: What is the difference?

By Jen Segura  

You may be wondering what is the difference between premarital and postmarital agreements. Aside from one taking place before the marriage and one after, there are a few distinct differences as well as some similarities.

The False, Negative Connotation of Premarital Agreements 

Most individuals recognize the idea of a “prenuptial agreement,” commonly referred to as a “prenup.” A premarital agreement is virtually the same document, however, as with many things in mediation, we like to use terms that do not hold a negative connotation. And let’s face it, “prenup” is not a word that brings warm fuzzies to your belly! Especially if you are about to walk down the aisle with your one true love (not trying to be too sappy – but sometimes it feels that way when you finally meet the right person!) 

The thing is, prenups DID create resentment, fear, and anxiety. They were often sprung on the blushing bride shortly before the wedding was to take place, making her feel pressured to sign the document (one she often did not read or understand) or lose her prince charming. Due to the poor behavior of the wealthy intending to limit their financial obligations to their soon-to-be spouse, rules were put into place. These rules were designed to support the individual being asked to sign the document with reasonable time to review and comprehend it before the wedding day. This ensures she/he understood and had full disclosure of the financial picture. While this did provide more protections, it didn’t really help the parties come to a mutual agreement, that they discussed and negotiated together.  

Benefits of Premarital Mediation

This is where premarital mediation and the resulting premarital agreement come into play. By setting up a premarital mediation you are guaranteed to have ample time to disclose information, review the information, discuss proposals, refine those proposals, and feel like you have a mutual understanding of the expectations you each have for each other. Many of the topics discussed in premarital mediation aren’t even captured in the premarital agreement. However, it doesn’t mean they aren’t just as important of a discussion to have.

Sometimes people have dated for years and talked through how they want their lives to be as the years go by, other couples have whirl-wind romances and often have no clue what the other person wants out of life. It does seem prudent, especially these days, to make sure you are compatible with the person you are promising to love for all eternity! Simple questions like whether you each want children, how many, will one parent stay home with the kids or is it important that you both maintain an identity outside of the home? All these topics are necessary to review prior to taking the plunge! And these will be the types of conversations you have in premarital mediation.  

 So now that we have reviewed the agreement that comes BEFORE you get married, what is the document that people can utilize AFTER the marriage has taken place?  

Key Components of Postmarital Agreements

Remember those rules we discussed that were put into place to try to level the playing field a bit between the spouse proposing the premarital agreement and the spouse it is being imposed upon? Well, some of those rules created barriers that couldn’t be met prior to the wedding day. When this happens, couples do have the choice to enter into a postmarital agreement to cover some of the same terms that would have been in the premarital agreement, had one been prepared and presented within the legal requirements. Although this may feel like a viable option, be forewarned, depending on a spouse to sign a document limiting her new spouse’s obligation to her is far more difficult when the wedding has already taken place. So, it is always best to get those issues discussed and decided upon long before the wedding date!  

 However, there are other reasons to use a postmarital agreement and we will review a few of those below. But first, what is postmarital mediation?  

 This is a method in which professionals trained in conflict resolution, teach partners to communicate in healthier ways. Mediation uses proven methods designed to reframe arguments in a manner that greatly reduces the emotional weight of the words. The primary focus of marital mediation is to teach couples to communicate in a healthy way allowing them to express their feelings without blaming their partner for making them feel any one way. 

Benefits of Postmarital Mediation 

Unlike marital counseling, marital mediation is a short-term solution designed to create new patterns of communication between partners. Whereas counseling often involves years of analysis of deep-seated personality issues, mediation involves coaching sessions in which partners are taught to use crucial communication tools to significantly improve their levels of communication and understanding. 

At the end of the marital mediation sessions, couples may opt to have a postmarital agreement drafted for accountability between each other. It is always easy when you are frustrated or angry to misunderstand what is agreed upon and then violate those agreements later. This lessens resentment that can build over time when one partner feels gaslighted and her or his feelings ignored.  

Postmarital agreements are not often filed with the court, but instead are there for the parties to use to help them continue down a path of mutual respect and honesty, both within themselves and with each other. If there are specific financial terms within the document, then the document may be used at the time of a potential divorce, should the parties wish to have the document provide that structure. Ultimately, the document can be whatever the parties agree it will be. Most often, the conversations and the newly gained communication skills are the benefits most take away from marital mediation.  

Having a written plan in place to refer back to helps keep both partners accountable for the promises they made. At West Coast Family Mediation Center, we are happy to assist couples throughout California in creating mutually beneficial pre and postmarital agreements. Contact West Coast Family Mediation at (858) 736-2411 to schedule a free virtual consultation.

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