I was sitting in a café in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris when I met Olivier. He was a few tables away from me and my friend, and had been laughing at my friend's attempt to pick up the waiter with her broken French. I had been doing my best to translate between the two and convey their mutual interest, but I was failing miserably. Olivier's laughter made me realize he understood both French and English, so I suggested he come to our end of the café and take over playing matchmaker. So he did.
While my friend and the waiter wandered off together, Olivier and I struck up a conversation and hit it off. He was sweet and charming, and his accent won me over immediately. We dated through the spring, and when I went back to New York City, we were determined to make it work. In July, I returned to Paris to see the man I had fallen in love with a couple months before, and we picked up where we left off. After a few weeks together in France, he proposed, and I accepted. Like any newly engaged bride-to-be, I was ecstatic, on cloud nine and all the rest of the mushy emotions that go with it.
How my prenup came to be
Once the initial euphoria passed, it was time to think about logistics. Being citizens of different countries, we first had to tackle the decision of where we were going to live. As a New Yorker, I wasn't about to give up the city I loved, even if it was for Paris, and Olivier, being a born-and-bred Parisian, wasn't exactly stoked about moving to the United States. We figured, after little debate, that I'd move to Paris for six months to a year first, then he'd move to NYC for the same amount of time.
Luckily, I was a freelance writer, and he was a musician, so a little country-hopping was possible. After that, we'd make some serious decisions as to where we'd settle to start our family.
Once that was out of the way, I went back to planning my wedding and being in love, truly in love, for the first time in my life. I figured the rest would fall into place.
Then one night, while out with the ladies, a friend leaned into me and asked, "You're getting a prenup, right?" Before I could answer, she continued, "You have to get a prenup."
At first, I was taken aback. It wasn't a question of it being a distasteful suggestion, but rather justification for what had been going on, quietly, in my head. I never thought I'd get married. Honestly, marriage and kids weren't in my life plan. If it happened, it happened; if it didn't, I wasn't going to cry over it. But as a life-long cynic, I did know that if I did get married, I would want a prenup.
Why? Considering the divorce rate, it was basic logic to protect not just your assets, but yourself as a whole, from losing it all. However, now, as a newly engaged woman whose cynicism had been diluted by love, it seemed like such a negative way to look at my future with Olivier.
By definition, a prenup is a contract marrying parties enter into before they make their nuptials legit. In the simplest terms, it protects what's yours should the marriage come to an end. From making the division of assets concrete, to assuring spousal support, to specific terms regarding the possible forfeit of assets, a prenup legally binds the two parties to the decisions they made when they were of sound mind, in love, and long before divorce even seemed like a possibility.
What I wanted to protect
To be honest, my financial situation isn't exactly as I hoped it would be at 36. When I graduated from college, I assumed that by the time I was in my 30s, I'd own a brownstone in Brooklyn and have a substantial amount of money in the bank. While I do all right financially, I do not own that elusive brownstone, nor do I have $100K+ in my savings account, as I immaturely thought I would.
I chose to be a freelance writer; it was my dream. Because of this choice, I can have a great month, then a bleak month, but I also understand that, as a New Yorker, my idea of a bleak month may differ from others'. I also currently have an inheritance that I can dip into should I need it and more inheritance to come, one that I'd like to protect. They're not huge amounts by any means, but I don't want them to create an issue later.
There was also the fact that Olivier is French. I'm not familiar with French laws when it comes to divorce and the division of assets. Should we part ways while living in France, I'd like to know that I have something set in stone, a legal document that couldn't be contested no matter how different the laws there might be. After doing a bit of research as what I could put in a prenup, I found that some people even go so far as to include how many times a week they'll have sex, or even demand a minimum number of home-cooked meals per week.
For me, a prenup isn't about sex or home-cooked meals — although Olivier makes amazing French dishes that I thought only existed in dreams. I don't need it in writing that he will take out the trash every other day, and I'll do it the days in between. That's the stuff you figure out in a marriage, not on a piece of paper. That's the stuff that makes a marriage what it is: A partnership.
It is about finances, assets, as well as the care and raising of our future child — should we have one, support and custody of him or her, and a forfeit of assets should either one of us cheat. This is an important one to me, because I believe there is no greater betrayal than adultery.
I may be in love, but I'm not ignorant about the fact that "things" can happen. I understand that infidelity is always a possibility, that sometimes love just dies, or even that there may be a situation where I'm stuck in France, unable to leave the country with my daughter because of laws I can't change. If Olivier and I were to part — for whatever reason — I want to make damn sure I can come home to the States with my child.
How he took it
When I mentioned the prenup to Olivier, I sat him down and blurted it out quickly, before I lost my nerve.
"I'd like us to get a prenup," I said.
His response was exactly what I expected: "But why? We're not going to divorce." He then went on to tell me how much he loved me in both French and English. I expected as much: The man is a hopeless romantic.
"I keep thinking of the movie Not Without My Daughter and…"
"Oh, come on!" he said, "France is hardly Iran!"
"You don't have freedom of speech, and neither does Iran," I countered.
"Come on!" he said again. "But fine, let's get a prenup, if it will make you happy."
It was seriously that easy. I also told him that I'd like to be paid 500,000 euros should he cheat on me, but that was followed by silence, then laughter, then more silence. I don't think that will be in the prenup.
What the process was like
Before I decided to contact an attorney, I talked to my lawyer friends first. I knew no lawyer would tell me a prenup is a bad idea if it meant making money, so friends who had gone to law school were my best bet.
"Have you become sickeningly wealthy?" asked my friend Matt. Not yet, I assured him, but obviously I have a huge, gigantic book deal on the horizon, which will be made into a blockbuster hit. I mean, obviously.
I laid out all my reasons, reassuring him and probably myself, as well, that I wasn't trying to be pessimistic, merely realistic. You can't argue the blaring truth of the divorce rate. He told me that my reasons made sense, and that having witnessed nightmarish divorces, it's not as though a prenup is ever a bad idea, per se.
Statistically, prenups are on the rise, and 46 percent of lawyers have noticed an increase in women requesting them, found a survey of members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
According to Alton Abramowitz, the president of AAML, "As the financial and real estate markets continue to improve, there is a greater awareness of risk to possibly sharing these gains in a divorce."
It may not be something you want to think about in between picking out your china patterns, but it is something to take a moment and discuss before you tie the knot. Divorce is a fact of life for about half of married couples, so don't you owe it to yourself to consider it for even the briefest of moments? You, too, could cite a Sally Field movie to ease into the conversation; Steel Magnolias might be a great option.
When I told my mother I was getting a prenup, she seemed disappointed. "Why get married if you just assume you're going to get divorced?" she reasoned. While she has a point, I believe in always preparing for the worst. Maybe I'm a cynic. Or maybe this is the only part of my life in which I'm capable of rational thinking, but for my fiancé and me, this is something to which we've agreed. We don't think of it as jinxing our future. For us, it's simply about protecting ourselves and whatever children we might have.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Sorry Belle Knox, porn still oppresses women
- Watch The Daily Show mock Fox News' confused man-crush on Vladimir Putin
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Why is American internet so slow?
- Colorado’s new ‘drive high, get a DUI’ commercials are actually pretty clever
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
- Why states should stop limiting the alcohol content in your beer
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
Subscribe to the Week