I Got A $20 Prenup — & It Helped Me Have Some Hard Conversations About Money
It might not be legal, but it's given me peace of mind.
It was a hot Sunday in June, and we were lazily sitting in our tiny Brooklyn apartment, hanging out with the dog, and chatting about everything and nothing — the neighborhood, the strange guy at work, and where we’d be living the following year. Neither of us had *planned* to talk about marriage, but before we knew it the conversation took a pretty serious turn.
Before I keep going with this story, let me give you some context. Dalmar and I had been dating for 10 years and living together for 2 when we had this conversation. We first met in fifth grade at an international school in Ethiopia (true story). He was and is, without a doubt, my best friend. That said, I was never planning on getting married to him (or to anyone!). I used to say “I’m not a marriage kinda girl.” I never dreamt about my wedding day but instead focused my fantasies on the house I’d build or the company I’d launch.
So when Dalmar suddenly turned to me and asked why we weren’t getting married, I mostly rolled my eyes.
“Babe,” I said, “I love you, but I don’t see the point of getting married. You have to deal with wedding planning, family dynamics, and stuff that I just can’t bother with right now. If you’re up for spending $30,000 on a wedding, let’s buy a house."
“I know, but what if we didn’t have a wedding? Don’t you think it’s important that we show the world that we’re serious about each other?” he said. “It just seems like you’re avoiding getting married over a wedding.”
Point 1: Dalmar.
“Well, it’s not just the wedding. We’d have to figure out all kinds of stuff, like how to merge our finances, which just feels complicated in a way that it isn’t today. Why bother?”
Within minutes of the conversation, we were both alert and animated. His argument was that I was letting these “details” get in the way. And my counterpoint mostly boiled down to “why rock the boat?” After much debate that night, we decided to keep talking about it. And after months of consideration, and seeing how important it was to my husband, he won me over. Plus, I got a commitment to a second dog out of it.
Once I agreed to get married, the question about money invariably resurfaced. After much discussion, we decided to maintain the partially-merged financial setup we’d grown accustomed to, in which we had shared accounts for things we wanted to spend and save for together, and individual accounts for things we wanted to maintain independently. To cover our bases from a legal standpoint, we figured we’d explore a prenup so we could dictate how we’d split our assets and debts in case of a breakup. Being a child of divorced parents, it was a reality that wanted a plan for, even if we never ended up there.
Our hypothesis was that this approach would allow us to maintain our independence but still build towards shared hopes and dreams. In truth, it gave us control in a moment where we were losing some of our independence to each other.
As the knighted family CFO (chief financial officer), it was my responsibility to come up with a plan for the prenup. Surprisingly, at least to me, prenups aren’t very straightforward. I googled, I made calls, I asked friends, and I finally got connected to a lawyer who said she’d charge me $6,000 to handle the paperwork, which included drafting and reviewing the documents. The kicker? We’d *each* have to get a lawyer to represent us so there was no conflict of interest. I’m pretty sure I dropped my phone when I heard that. It seemed excessive to spend $12,000 for a prenup to cover our modest assets, and I suddenly worried that maybe it was unnecessary.
Not one to give up, I continued to explore ways we could get a prenup without breaking the bank. I called other lawyers, friends, and friends of friends, and they all quoted similar numbers. Frustrated, I started searching for prenup templates and landed on Rocket Lawyer. For $20, you could get a fully fleshed out template which you could lightly adapt to your specific situation. Excited, I brought it to Dalmar to show him what I’d found. I’d read the document and found it to be pretty easy to understand. There was a disclosure process where we had to put forward the assets and liabilities we had. Then a discussion session where we came up with how we wanted to maintain our assets and liabilities once we were married. And lastly, there was a section on how we’d divide the assets if anything ever happened to our union. As we talked through it, the prenup kind of naturally evolved into an exercise on scenario-planning. All the what-ifs we could face in our future together: dog-kids, human-kids, death, divorce, and/or re-marriage. And before either of us knew, we’d had the *really deep* money talk. For both of us, the prenup had served its purpose.
Now, mark my words carefully: I am by no means suggesting that everyone should just download and sign legal documents off the internet (in fact, please don’t). But for our purposes, the prenup became more ceremonial than some stress-tested legal document. Part of me wonders if the agreement would ever really hold up in court, but part of me also doesn’t really care. I mostly just wanted us to have a shared understanding of some of the possibilities we might face together in the future.
That was over five years ago, and Dalmar and I have certainly had our share of ups and downs since then. But through them all, the nuggets of conversation we started with that prenup have evolved into a thoughtful estate plan, a medical protocol in case something ever happens to either one of us, and even a discussion on our after-life goals (mine is turning into a ghost who haunts people who hurt animals).
These might not seem like the sexiest topics to discuss with your partner, but you’d be amazed at how much closer these conversations can bring you. We’ve become more open and honest with each other, and perhaps most interesting is that neither of us is ever right or wrong in these conversations. We each have very different perspectives of what we want, but by sitting down and hashing it out without the fear of being judged or ridiculed is actually really magical and romantic.
I’m sharing this story not because I think prenups are for everyone or because I’m paid by Rocket Lawyer (I’m not). I’m telling you this story because money remains one of the hardest topics to talk about amongst women. My hope is that you’ll find some value and maybe the courage to have conversations like this with your SO after hearing my experience.
As for those nuptials: we got married in July 2015, but didn't have a big wedding (it was our compromise). We had a few friends tag along to the courthouse to serve as witnesses (required). Funnily enough, our entire wedding cost us $500 (we paid for lunch). In retrospect, I'm still glad we didn't do the big shindig, but I also feel a little nostalgic when I go to someone else's wedding. Though truth be told, we'd probably both stick with exactly how we did it.
Five years later, we’re still happily married, still having regular money discussions (sometimes still awkward), and are still very happy with the decision to get a prenup. I think we’d both tell you that it’s potentially the best $20 we’ve ever spent.