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Premarital agreements are typically drawn up by a premarital agreement attorney before marriage and detail how a couple will divide their existing and future assets and debts in the event of a divorce. Prenups are permitted in every state of the United States; however, the laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
How do prenuptial agreements work in Washington? In Washington state, there is no statute on the books that governs prenuptial agreements. Instead, Washington courts utilize principles of contract law to resolve issues that arise.
How to Protect Assets with a Prenuptial Agreement in Washington
A person who has considerable pre-marital assets can use a prenup to ensure that they will retain full ownership of that property in the event of a divorce. To protect your assets with a prenup in Washington, you must be sure that the agreement is well-drafted and comprehensive. Your financial interests must be fully disclosed, and you must give your soon-to-be-spouse adequate time to review the agreement with his or her own attorney.
Who Should Get a Prenuptial Agreement?
A prenuptial agreement in Washington state can be an effective tool for processing divorces. However, it may not be appropriate or needed for every married couple.
One or Both Parties Has Already Been Married
Spouses who have previously been married may be more likely to require prenuptial agreements than first-timers — especially in cases involving spouses who have been taken advantage of in previous divorces. They feel a prenup is a good way to protect themselves in the event of a divorce.
One or Both Parties Have Children
When one or both spouses have children, they may want to enter into a prenup to protect their children's assets and inheritances in the event of a divorce. A prenuptial marital agreement allows spouses to provide for and protect their children's future.
One Party Is Wealthier
A major disparity between the income and assets of the spouses is a common reason for prenuptial agreements. The more affluent spouse typically requests a prenuptial agreement from their spouse-to-be to help ensure that they are not just marrying for the money.
One Party Has More Debt
Debts acquired before marriage are not marriage debts. However, a potential spouse with loads of debt is likely to continue incurring debt during their marriage. For this reason, some people require prenuptial agreements to protect themselves from their future spouse's spending habits.
One or Both Parties Own a Business
A divorce can wreak havoc on business operations if the business gets mixed up in the proceedings. With a prenuptial in place, the business-owning spouse can protect the business's assets as well as protect others who may be part owners in said business.
One or Both Parties Want to Keep Their Personal Life Private
Parties who wish to keep their marriage details private can find the protection they are looking for in prenuptial agreements. Each party can add terms requiring that details of their marriage and divorce be kept private. They can even choose arbitration to keep the divorce out of the public eye.
One or Both Parties Have an Inheritance to Protect
Inheritances are not marital property. However, inheritance funds may occasionally become co-mingled with marital funds, which may make said funds marital. Although keeping accounts separate is the optimal way to protect inheritances, a properly created prenuptial premarital agreement can protect the inheritances of both parties.
One Party Plans on Being a Stay-at-Home Parent
A prenup agreement can be an effective tool for protecting the financial interests of a future spouse who decides to forgo work to take care of children. A prenup agreement can ensure that they are provided for in the event of a divorce.
Prenups May Be Enforced in Washington — but There’s No Dedicated Statute
Many U.S. states have a statute in place for prenuptial agreements. However, Washington is an exception. While prenups can be enforced in Washington, the state does not have specific statutory guidelines for prenuptial agreements. Instead, a wide body of case law has been developed by the Washington courts. The law holds that prenuptial agreements in Washington State will only be enforced if certain requirements are met. As well explained in the 1986 Washington court case of In the Matter of the Marriage of James T. Matson, Washington uses the following factors to test the validity of a prenup:
- Assets must have been fully disclosed prior to the signing of the agreement;
- The agreement must have been entered into voluntarily, without undue pressure; and
- Both parties should have consulted with their independent counsel to ensure that they fully understood what they were signing.
What Is the Purpose of a Prenup?
What does a prenup protect? Prenuptial agreements are meant to protect the financial interests of one or both spouses in the event of a divorce. They typically include terms addressing the distribution of assets and debts in the event of a split. For example, pre-marriage assets, such as a retirement account or a home, and inheritances can all be dealt with in prenuptial agreements. With clear terms in place, individuals can ensure that their individual property remains safe.
Clarifying Debt Responsibility
Debt issues can cause serious trouble during divorce proceedings. For this reason, many choose prenuptial agreements to make it clear which spouse is responsible for which debts. In some marriages, one spouse is typically more debt averse than the other and may feel much more comfortable with a prenup in place, especially if the other spouse is bringing much debt with them into the new marriage.
Safeguarding Business Ventures and Investments
Some spouses are business owners and partners before getting married. For these individuals, a prenuptial agreement is often recommended to protect their interest in the business as well as the interests of their business partners. In the end, properly maintaining a separation between business and divorce funds is the best protection. But a well-drafted prenuptial agreement can provide the protection a spouse needs with clear terms relating to business versus personal assets.
Addressing Other Legal Considerations
Prenups generally address assets and debts but may be helpful in dealing with other legal issues as well. It is important to note that prenuptial agreements can not be used to create or modify child support and custody arrangements. However, they can be used to help streamline the divorce process with terms relating to the provision of legal fees, no-contest clauses, and more. An experienced prenup lawyer can provide more information on the limitations of prenups.
What Are the Benefits of Including Future Assets in a Prenup?
The benefits of a prenup may also extend to future assets:
- Future Business Interests: Spouses can protect future business interests that have not yet been realized.
- Future Assets Purchased with Separate Property: Assets purchased with non-marital property can also be protected by a prenup, even when the future assets are unknown.
- Future Income: A spouse may desire to protect future income with a prenuptial agreement in situations involving a party with unusually high income.
- Future Appreciation: Non-marital property is likely to appreciate over time. This appreciation can be protected in a prenup.
- Inheritances and Gifts: A prenup can also be used to protect future inheritances and gifts.
Prenuptial Agreement Limitations
Prenups are powerful agreements, but they have various limitations that spouses should be aware of.
Prenups Cannot Be Used for Issues Related to Children
Assuming that the prenup is valid, Washington courts give couples considerable discretion to make their own agreement regarding property and assets. A well-constructed prenuptial agreement could make the divorce process less challenging. That being said, there are limits on what you can use a prenup for in Washington. You cannot use a prenup to deal with any issue that directly involves children. In other words, you cannot use a prenup for child custody or child support. Any terms related to child custody and child support are legally invalid and automatically unenforceable.
Generic Online Prenup Templates May Not Suffice
DIYers take note. Various generic templates of prenups can be found online. However, a cookie-cutter prenup will likely be inadequate to address all of the unique aspects of your circumstances. Instead, any future spouse who is contemplating a prenup should meet with an experienced prenup attorney. Without a professional creating and reviewing their prenuptial, a spouse could very well see their prenup fall apart in court.
A generic prenup may also work to lock one or both spouses into certain agreements and courses of action unintentionally. However, with an attorney, spouses avoid these types of pitfalls.
A Prenup Might Have an Expiration Date
Some prenups have expiration dates, which means that the protections they offer eventually expire. For some couples, having an expiration date is a strategic choice. For example, a couple may agree to a prenup for the first ten or so years of their marriage to assuage the concerns of one of the spouses. After ten years, a clause, typically known as a sunset clause, in the prenuptial may indicate that the prenup is no longer in force. For a wealthy spouse, a sunset clause can potentially protect them from someone who is after their money.
Prenups Can Determine Alimony
Those interested in alimony and prenups should know that it is possible to set the terms of alimony agreements within prenuptial agreements. However, parties to these types of agreements should be aware that financial circumstances may change or even reverse during the course of a marriage, making the alimony agreements no longer reflective of reality. Additionally, poorly drafted prenups dealing with alimony are likely to be voided by the court.
To ensure the proper drafting and planning of a prenuptial agreement, it is important to hire an experienced prenup lawyer. In fact, many family law experts advise that each party have their attorney.
No-Contest Clauses and Legal Fees
While two spouses may voluntarily agree to a prenuptial agreement before marriage, one or both may eventually seek to challenge its terms later on down the line. To prevent challenges to the prenuptial agreement from occurring, the parties may put a no-contest clause in their prenups. Parties may also put terms in the prenup calling for each spouse to take care of their own individual attorney's fees.
Although seemingly restrictive, these types of provisions only seek to keep the original prenup agreement valid and intact. Meeting with an experienced prenup lawyer is essential to creating an airtight prenup agreement.
Reasons Why You May Not Want a Prenuptial Agreement
Although many have valid reasons for desiring a prenup, there are also many reasons why you may not want one.
- Both Spouses Weren't Involved in the Negotiations: If you're presented with a prenup to sign, you may not want to enter into the agreement if you played no role in its creation; it may hold unfavorable terms.
- It Might Cause Discomfort and Hurt Feelings: If you desire a prenuptial agreement, be aware that bringing the topic up could lead to a new dimension of discomfort and cause a partner to experience hurt feelings.
- Friction with Extended Families: Extended family members may react adversely to the notion of a prenuptial agreement. The subject should be broached with care if possible.
- The Prenup Is Conditioned on Future Events: No one can predict the future. So it may be unwise to base important marital and divorce decisions on uncontrollable conditions.
If You Don't Make a Prenup
The majority of marriages take place without prenuptial agreements. With no agreement in place, state laws determine the property rights and obligations of the spouses. Depending on the particular state, some of these rights include:
- Equal share in a majority of the property obtained during the marriage.
- Equal share or responsibility in the debt obligations incurred by each spouse during the course of the marriage.
- Equal decision-making authority and control over marital property (or community property for community property jurisdictions).
Before getting married, it is important to understand the marriage laws of the state you are in. If you are not satisfied with how the state handles marriage issues, you are free to explore a prenuptial agreement. Make sure to reach out to an experienced prenuptial agreement attorney for help. You deserve seasoned guidance, planning, and drafting services that you can rely on in the future when you need them.
Making a Valid Prenup
Prenups are quickly becoming more commonplace. Judges who once heavily scrutinized them with a level of suspicion now treat them like common legal documents. However, this does not mean that judges are lax when it comes to these agreements. In order to be valid, prenups must be clear, understandable, legal, and fair.
The first step in creating a valid prenuptial agreement is seeking the services of an experienced prenup lawyer. You need a professional to ensure that your prenup is legally solid. An experienced attorney knows how to make a prenuptial agreement valid. Your future spouse should also have their own attorney, who should review the terms of the prenup on behalf of their client.
In every case, it pays in the end to avoid rushing and to take the time you need to cover all of your concerns. Your attorney will ask various questions of you and seek details of your financial life. The more thorough the planning, the stronger the prenuptial agreement.
How Much Does a Prenup Cost?
How much does a prenuptial agreement cost? It depends. Many factors are at play when it comes to determining the cost of a prenup. Many lawyers charge a flat rate for their services. Depending on the complexity of the issue, this flat rate could be as low as a couple of thousand dollars and as high as tens of thousands of dollars. In cases where significant complex matters are involved, prenup lawyers may choose to use an hourly basis to charge their clients.
Regardless of the cost, prenups are quickly coming to be accepted as practical tools that save money and time if a divorce occurs.
How Do Prenuptial Agreements Affect a Divorce in Washington?
Prenuptial agreements can have a major effect on divorce proceedings. Before marriage, future spouses are permitted to dictate how certain aspects of their marriage will be handled during a divorce. Typically, spouses seek to control asset, debt, and alimony issues in prenuptial agreements.
Courts are now more receptive to prenuptial agreements and look at them with less scrutiny than they did in the past. That said, judges are more than willing to void an agreement on grounds that it is unfair or unconscionable.
Regarding children, it is important to note again that child custody and support matters cannot be decided with prenuptial agreements. These areas of family law are controlled by statutes and the courts.
However, some parties may not be aware of the scope and limitations of prenups. For this reason, it is always a good idea to hire an experienced lawyer when it comes to prenuptial agreements in Washington or anywhere else.
Do You Have to File a Prenup with the Court?
You are not required to file a premarital agreement with the court at the time you create such a contract. Additionally, you do not have to file the prenup with the court at any time during your marriage. However, once a party is seeking a divorce, the prenup will need to eventually be presented to the court.
Seattle Court House
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Kent, WA 98032
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Spokane, WA 99260
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Pierce County Superior Court
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Tacoma, WA 98402
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Thurston County Superior Court
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Clallam County Court
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Asotin County Court
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Clark County Court
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Columbia County Court
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Dayton, WA 99328-1361
Douglas County Court
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King County Court
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Ferry County Court
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Franklin County Court
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Kitsap County Court
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Protect Your Assets with Hodgson Law Office
Prenups were once the providence of high-wealth individuals, but not anymore. Folks of average or lower wealth are also finding them to be of much use. If you're wondering how to protect assets with a prenuptial agreement in Washington, Hodgson Law Office can help.
We've got extensive experience helping future spouses protect their interests with airtight, well-thought-out prenuptial agreements. If you need a seasoned prenuptial agreement lawyer in Washington, give our office a call or contact us online for help.
Is a prenup necessary if you don’t have any current assets?
As previously mentioned, prenuptial agreements can be used to make decisions about future assets. So even without assets currently, you may still find a need for one in the future.
How does a court know which future assets are protected if I don't specifically list them?
The courts understand that it is not possible to predict the future and, therefore, do not require the specific listing of future assets. That said, language in the prenup should be specific enough to cover what assets you do acquire.
Can a prenup be changed after it is signed?
Yes. Prenups are like contracts and may be changed under the proper circumstances after being signed. Both parties must agree to the changes, and changes must be in accordance with the law.
Are prenups only for wealthy couples?
No. Prenups are not only for the rich. Previously, they were typically used only by wealthy couples. However, they are now increasingly being used by couples of normal or low wealth.
What's the difference between a prenup and a postnup?
The main difference between prenuptial and postnuptial agreements is that prenuptial agreements are entered into before the marriage and postnuptial agreements are entered into after the exchange of wedding vows.
Do you need a lawyer to draft a prenuptial agreement?
Many people wonder, "Do I need a lawyer for a prenup?" The answer is yes if you are interested in truly protecting your future. Lawyers make airtight prenups, while DIYers often miss important details that prove problematic later on.
Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced Spokane Divorce Lawyer Today!
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