The New, Very Millennial Benefits Of Getting A Prenup
The generation accused of killing everything from diamonds to department stores is reinventing the meaning of the legal agreement.
Jenny knew from the beginning that she wanted a prenup. She’d been working since she was 15, eventually building a successful career in real estate in Los Angeles. When she and her ex-husband started dating, she made more than five times his salary. And while she didn’t get married with a plan to divorce, Jenny says, she wanted to protect the life she’d worked for, just in case.
“Nobody really talks about prenups that openly, especially as a female. It’s something that’s kind of frowned upon,” says the 34-year-old. “[But] I’ve worked really hard in my life and wanted to protect everything I’ve earned.”
So before they got married, Jenny told him she wanted a prenuptial agreement, or prenup — a legal contract, agreed upon by both parties, detailing what would happen to their individual and shared assets in case their marriage ended — and he was completely on board, she says. He consulted with a few attorneys and agreed to her terms, which said that Jenny wouldn’t provide him financial support if they divorced.
But when they did split up toward the end of the pandemic — after three and a half years of marriage, during which he wasn’t consistently working — Jenny’s ex and his lawyer looked for loopholes that could entitle him to some of Jenny’s money.
“[People say] the person you marry is not the same person you divorce. It’s 100% true,” she says. “Somebody who expressed to me that they really didn’t care about money… you see an entirely different side of them during the divorce.”
Because of the prenup, Jenny’s home, car, and money were protected. Everything she’d wanted to keep, she kept. “That prenup really did save me.”
Prenups can be taboo. There’s a misconception that they can foreshadow inequality between partners, marital conflict, or divorce.
About 20% of married couples in the United States have a prenup, according to a Harris Poll survey from September, but that number jumps to 47% for millennial respondents who are engaged or have been married, and 41% for Gen Z. And not only are millennials breathing new life into the industry, but they’re also reinventing what a prenup can symbolize.
“Younger people are going into their marriages with more thought and intentionality,” says Raymond Hekmat, principal attorney at Hekmat Law & Mediation, a family law firm in California. “When a lot of my clients are coming to me, it’s not necessarily about protecting their assets in the event of a divorce, but having the necessary conversations on what their marriage is going to look like.”
Millennials, who currently range from ages 27 to 42, are also marrying later in life than Gen Xers and boomers — a median age of 30 for men and 28 for women, according to census data — so by the time they’re ready to tie the knot, they’re more likely to have amassed assets, resources, and debts they’d prefer to keep separate. (Since student loan debt is usually accrued before marriage, it will typically remain the original borrower’s responsibility after a divorce.)
I want an as-equal-as-possible relationship, where there’s as little transaction as possible. I think a prenup is a tool for that.
“Millennials have been told long enough that we’re not responsible with money,” says Kaylin Dillon, a certified financial planner and prenup coach. “[But they’re] actually quite responsible with money.”
They’re also less likely to pursue divorce, contributing to an 18% drop in the U.S. divorce rate, but divorce still guides how they’re preparing for marriage. Many of the millennials Dillon works with grew up as spectators to their boomer parents’ divorces, giving them firsthand knowledge of the painful, complicated logistics that follow a separation.
That’s the case for Siobhan Donnelly, a 33-year-old in Brooklyn who’s planning to get a postnuptial agreement with her husband of two years. “My parents being divorced is a big part of it, having seen how difficult it can be,” says Donnelly, who works in visual arts copyright. “That created a lot of conflict.”
She and her husband both want a plan for managing a hypothetical separation, Donnelly says, something a couple can do with a prenup or a postnup. (Because the latter is signed after marriage rather than before, it’s harder to enforce in some states, where courts do extra diligence to make sure an agreement is fair.)
The postnup Donnelly and her husband are eyeing will outline what would happen to the apartment they co-own, as well as their pets, savings, shared art collection, and other valuables.
“When you get married, you’re combining your life with somebody else’s. [If] you get divorced, you have to separate those lives again,” Donnelly said. “There’s no harm in having that [agreement] in place, but there’s a lot of harm that could come from not.”
For many of today’s couples, a commitment to open communication — rather than protecting one’s wealth — is guiding the prenup conversation.
“Ten years ago there were far fewer prenups than there are today,” says Julia Rodgers, esquire, the CEO of HelloPrenup, a platform for creating prenups online. “The way people are viewing prenups, they’re looking at it as something that is an access point to an open and transparent relationship.”
Vincent, a 38-year-old who’s being identified by a pseudonym, completed a quick prenup just days before getting married. The New York City resident had always believed that a hypothetical breakup would be amicable but got the prenup anyway.
“We bought a template online, researched it together, got it notarized at UPS,” says the health care worker. “We put it in the closet and never thought of it again.”
After six years of marriage, the couple decided to divorce, and the split was as amicable and cooperative as Vincent had predicted. The prenup didn’t even come up, though Vincent says it still had an impact on the relationship.
“Being able to talk about it and research it together probably did more than the final document itself,” Vincent says. HelloPrenup’s data suggests a similar trend: 83% of respondents to a survey by the company said they felt more connected with their partner after completing a prenup together.
“I want an as-equal-as-possible relationship, where there’s as little transaction as possible,” Vincent says. “I think a prenup is a tool for that.”