photography by ALLURE WEST STUDIOS and KIM BILLINGSLEY
A new year brings new beginnings. For some, this means another chance at marriage. As men and women prepare to make another walk down the aisle, they should not only focus on the promise of happiness ahead but also make plans to protect everything they have worked hard to accumulate prior to saying, “I do.”
“No one goes into a marriage thinking a divorce is possible,” says Jeffrey A. Liebmann, founding member and owner of Liebmann Family Law in Newtown. “That’s why there is often a need for a Pre-Nuptial agreement, especially in second or third marriages. When you’re 21 and getting married for the first time, the need for a Pre-Nup is not all that great unless you’re coming into the marriage with family money. But when you’re 51 and have children, retirement assets and everything else that comes with success, it’s very important to consider.”
A Pre-Nuptial agreement essentially determines how assets will be distributed in the event that two people decide to go their separate ways. “If done well, a Pre-Nuptial agreement is a roadmap as to how to split up the marital estate if a divorce occurs, with no fighting about who gets what,” Liebmann adds. “It’s a complex document, but when guided by a good attorney, the process is a relatively inexpensive and simple proposition, and it could save you a fortune.”
A Pre-Nuptial agreement requires the full disclosure of all assets and liabilities brought to the marriage, as well as some degree of negotiation. But unlike the contentiousness often seen when the two parties become entangled in a litigated divorce, the negotiation in a Pre-Nuptial agreement is “not for more or less but for what’s fair,” according to Mindy J. Snyder, a family law attorney with Liebmann Family Law. Furthermore, she says a properly executed Pre-Nuptial agreement can address virtually any scenario between two to-be spouses.
“If both parties have a home, who’s going to sell and who’s going to keep?” Snyder says. “Are both parties going to contribute to household expenses, and if both parties are contributing, is it fair to have the spouse acquire some equity? Every situation is different; there is no ‘one size fits all.’”
When two people decide to get married, it’s common for them to live together for a time prior to the marriage. The law, however, does not give consideration to the time they spent together and the assets they accumulated prior to getting married. In these instances, the couple can use a Pre-Nuptial agreement to determine how those assets will be handled as well.
“You have to consider every ‘what if,’” Snyder says. “With experience, you see every ‘what if’ possible and can draft a document that benefits everybody.”
Although talking about a Pre-Nuptial agreement may be a delicate conversation to have with a future spouse, Liebmann says people can remove any potential awkwardness with a simple, direct admission: “I love you and believe we’ll live happily ever after, but I need to provide for my future and my children by making sure everything I’ve accumulated up until this point goes to them.”
A Complex Picture
A Pre-Nuptial agreement is hardly the only consideration when entering into a new marriage. In Pennsylvania, any alimony received from a prior marriage would be terminated in the event of remarriage, though child support and custody can be much more complicated. Liebmann uses the following scenario as an example: A man and a woman decide to get married, and it’s a second marriage for each of them. If each enters the union with children of their own, they may want to “blend” the two families. Although this process begins with a conversation with an ex-spouse, finding resolution may require going to court.
“If a new spouse has weekends of partial custody that are opposite yours, then it becomes a chaotic schedule,” Liebmann says. “You don’t want the kids have to pass each other in the driveway. By consulting with an attorney, you can get an answer to the question of: ‘Is there a way to get all members of the blended family on the same schedule so the weekends, vacations and holidays can coincide?’ You ought to make an effort to make this as peaceful a transition as possible, always considering the kids in the process.”
Likewise, the list of key considerations extends to the many aspects of estate planning, according to David Sowerbutts, an attorney with Liebmann Family Law. He says any individual preparing to get remarried should prioritize the updating of five essential estate-planning documents: a will, a general durable power of attorney, a real estate power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney and a living will.
“Each of these documents resolves a different issue,” he says. “These are five documents everyone over the age of 18 should have, and they become more and more critical as you get older and have children. The reasons for having them become multiplied when you marry a second or third time, which is why they need to be updated. You probably shouldn’t leave a former spouse or a former in-law in charge of such important decisions. Furthermore, most people delay in making beneficiary changes for life insurance, IRAs and retirement accounts, and that immediately creates a risk.”
His advice: eliminate the risk, but don’t go it alone. This applies to determining beneficiaries and other aspects of estate planning as much as it does to drafting an airtight Pre-Nuptial agreement.
“An effort has to be made to put the right documents in place, otherwise your true intentions could be thwarted; you could even end up accidentally disinheriting your children from your first marriage,” he says. “Start talking about it at home, but realize that this is a complicated area you can’t afford to get wrong. These are highly technical legal documents, and the words have special meanings. I’ve literally had people come in with a contract they wrote up, and the effect of what they wrote would be the exact opposite of what they wanted. This is one example of a time when the advice of an attorney is absolutely necessary.”
Even a brief meeting with a skilled family law attorney can help to clarify the picture.
“We encourage people to come here and ask questions,” says Liebmann. “Sometimes people don’t take the time to ask questions because they’re afraid they’ll be charged a few bucks, but some firms—ours is one of them—offer a free first consultation. Avail yourself to a free hour with an attorney to see what your future looks like before you go down this road. You could end up saving a lot of money and headaches as a result.”
LIEBMANN FAMILY LAW
4 Terry Drive, Suite 4
Newtown, PA 18940
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life Magazine, January, 2018.