In the classic TV show Chuck, CIA agent Sarah Walker springs a prenuptial agreement on her fiancé, Chuck.
Chuck was a regular guy working at a Best Buy-like store until he accidentally downloaded the government’s most top-secret computer into his brain. Walker and her partner, NSA agent John Casey, team up to protect Chuck from bad guys wanting to access the computer for evil. Throughout the series, Chuck proves his value as a spy and falls in love with Walker in the process.
The two get engaged, start to plan their wedding, go on spy missions together and then Sarah springs a prenup agreement on Chuck.
However, there are both legal and practical problems with the way Sarah presents the prenup agreement to Chuck.
First, while the number of people who chose to sign a prenup prior to getting married has increased recently, it’s generally a good idea to discuss the topic with one’s partner before asking them to simply sign and return the forms.
Idaho is a community property state. This means that property is either classified as personal or community property during a marriage – or realistically, at the end of it when it comes time to divide it. Personal property is property that belonged to a spouse prior to the marriage or was a gift or inheritance during the marriage. Community property is property acquired during the marriage. It also includes the amount of any personal property that increases during the marriage.
When a couple gets divorced, the community property is distributed through state laws, which requires each party receives an equitable, but not equal, share. A prenup agreement allows a couple to determine prior to marriage how their property will be distributed should their marriage ultimately end before death does them part.
Prenuptial agreements are a good idea in the following situations if one or both partners:
- Owns a business
- Have more than $200,000 in assets, such as a home, retirement funds or stocks
- Have children from a previous marriage
- Have parents or other family members they may need to eventually care for.
Or if one of the partners:
- Is wealthier than the other
- Will be supporting the other through college or another advance degree.
Prenup agreements can eliminate stress before, during and after a marriage because the parties will know where they stand at all times when it comes to protecting their assets and the other’s as well.
It took more than 10 years for Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger to get divorced because they couldn’t figure out how to divide Arnold’s vast fortune. Everyone gets married with the idea they will be with their spouse for the rest of their lives. No one gets married thinking it could take more than a decade to finalize a divorce after you find out your spouse fathered a child with a member of the household staff.
People might choose to pursue a prenup agreement at the advice or pressure of their family members. If one feels they have no choice to get one and would prefer not to, they could draft a clause that removes the agreement after a certain amount of years or include one that states after X years of marriage the property will be spit a certain way and that at Y years it will be done a certain way and so forth.
The good thing about agreeing to a prenup agreement is that it gives parties a chance to draft an agreement that works best for them when their relationship is at its best. It is far better than trying to reach an agreement at the end of a marriage when the state’s laws apply and the relationship is strained or worse.
Parties are free to contract whatever agreement they choose, with the exception of future child support and custody arrangements.
Realistically, not everyone needs a prenup, but it is a good idea for everyone to discuss finances before marriage and the prenup conversation can be part of those discussions, even if it’s decided against.
For a prenup agreement to be valid in Idaho, it must be executed voluntarily, not be unconscionable and include a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party.
The best way to ensure one is valid is to give the other party a chance to review it prior to the actual ceremony and providing them the chance to seek independent counsel to review the document prior to signing it.
It’s also important to ensure the other party fully has an understanding of all the assets prior to signing it so they can fully understand what it is they are agreeing to potentially give up in the event of a divorce.
While this doesn’t have to be a full and complete disclosure, it has to be of the nature to let the party fully understand the wealth of the other party and what assets they could potentially be giving up at the conclusion of their marriage.
When Sarah asks Chuck if he wants to know why she’s asking him to sign it, it’s not really an option for him to decide. She’s required to let him know that, “by the way, I have a huge stockpile of money you don’t know about I don’t want you to have any access to.” That’s the very nature of the disclosure the law requires to be a valid agreement.
It’s possible she doesn’t actually need the prenup agreement, at least not in Idaho, as the money would likely be considered her separate property. She has it in a separate account and has accumulated it prior to her pending marriage.
However, she could run into some problems if there was a 14th season and a divorce that followed when it became time to distribute their community property. For example, suppose she doesn’t touch the money and it grows in interest. Chuck would be entitled to half of the interest without a prenup agreement. Suppose they bought a house together and she used the money to make improvements to it and they want to sell the house when they get divorced, she would have to figure out what she’s entitled to then.
Suppose she gives Chuck access to the account during their marriage and he gets his paycheck deposited there and they use the account for community purposes. At what point does she lose the right to claim the funds as separate property? These are questions that her and her lawyer would have to spend time arguing with Chuck and his lawyer about when they got divorced, so it’s likely that a prenup agreement would still be best for her.
She’d just be wise to discuss it with him prior to asking for his signature.
Bonus: Check out the prenup agreement they actually ended up signing.