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Dividing the spoils of marriage
— By Joseph Duerrmeyer —

All marriages end at some point, be it through death or divorce. Marriages in America have a nearly equal chance of ending either way, counting on a 50 percent divorce rate.

Prenuptial agreements are one way of dealing with the reality of living in a society where 50 percent of “life-long commitments” ... aren't. A “prenupt” can also work as a financial tool when couples stick to their vows and actually live out a life-long commitment.

Prenuptial agreements are a legal contract between two people about to wed that spells out how assets will be distributed in the event of divorce or death. Such agreements have existed for thousands of years in some form or another, particularly in European and Far Eastern cultures where royal families have always made provisions for protecting their wealth.

However, you don't have to be a royal heir or a Trump to need a premarital agreement. A person who has struggled to save $30,000 may be more protective of his or her nest egg than a individual who has millions of dollars of inherited wealth or a huge financial empire.
Among the various pastors polled, the consensus is that prenuptial agreements are rarely used. This factor may be an outgrowth of religious or philosophical reasons or it may be because of the reality that there is very little that will douse a heated romance with cold water more quickly than bringing up the subject of a prenuptial agreement.

The State of Oregon recognizes prenuptial agreements, and they are found valid in the eyes of the law in most cases.

“There are several factors that are considered when determining the validity of a prenupt. The agreement must be voluntary, and the parties must make full disclosure of the assets,” said Charles Fadeley, a Sisters attorney and justice of the peace.

The courts look at the circumstances of the signing of the agreement.

“When a prenupt is done, it is important that each party be represented by an attorney so that they understand they agree to the terms and full disclosure must be made. In those cases the agreement would be found valid in court. But let's say that someone drops a prenupt on the bride 10 minutes before she walks down the aisle, it might be hard to enforce it,” said Fadeley.

Feelings are mixed about the use of prenuptial agreements, even from those who discourage using them.

“I believe that the purpose of marriage is for the two to become one, and that means at every level. It somehow undermines the very principle when entering a commitment to become one, yet also saying we will be one in every way except for my money,” said Tim Kizziar, lead pastor at Sisters Community Church.

That being said, pastor Kizziar acknowledges that there are times when a prenuptial agreement serves a valuable purpose.

“If a widow and a widower were to marry and each has children from a previous marriage, the couple might feel that there were things from the first marriage that belong to the children of the original spouse and the prenuptial agreement can insure that the inheritance passes to the rightful heirs,” he said.

The occasional valid need for a prenuptial agreement is also recognized by the Catholic Church which takes, perhaps, the strongest stand against divorce of any religious group.

“A prenuptial agreement is a little like buying fire insurance; just because you purchase insurance, it doesn't mean that you are planning on burning down your house. The important thing is that the agreement does not in any way diminish the commitment of the two that are entering into the sacrament of marriage,” said Father Richard Ley of Saint Edward the Martyr Catholic Church.

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