Just about everyone is familiar with the concept of prenuptial agreements, commonly known as prenups, but a couple can enter into a marital settlement agreement at any time during the marriage. These agreements are known as post-nuptial or mid-marriage agreements, and they are typically drafted when couples experience life changing circumstances, or wish to lay down specific terms before attempting a reconciliation.
Like prenups, mid-marriage agreements tend to be viewed with cynicism by the general public. They are often seen as weapons wielded by greedy individuals who acquire their fortune during the marriage, and don't wish to share the wealth in the event of a divorce. Another common assumption is that one spouse is sick of the other one, and is already looking to move on. A postnup clearly delineating who gets what will make for a speedy divorce once he or she lowers the ax on the unsuspecting spouse.
The majority of mid-marriage agreements, however, are amendments to an existing prenuptial agreement. They may also be drafted by couples who had always intended on having a prenup, but didn't have a chance to get to it before the marriage. Even if the marriage has been good, it's impossible to predict the future in the terms of how each spouse will evolve in their wants and needs. A clearly defined settlement agreement can help spouses divorce on good terms, in addition to protecting their individual interests, which may include businesses, inheritances, and children from a previous marriage who will need continued support.
Mid-marriage agreements also play an important role in reconciliation attempts between spouses with significant personal and/or financial issues. Delineating the terms of a settlement ahead of time can give one or both spouses the extra assurance they need in order to give the marriage another chance. Some problems, however, are extremely serious and may result in the court questioning whether the agreement was signed in good faith, without coercion. Hence, mid-marriage agreements are not recommended for spouses with a history of issues such as domestic violence, infidelity and substance abuse. In these types of marriages, it's not uncommon for one spouse to force the other one's hand by saying that he or she will file for divorce unless they sign off on a settlement agreement.
The possibility of coercion, misrepresentation, fraud, etc., is mitigated by the fact that most states require each party to retain their own attorney, that the agreement be in writing, that each spouse give a full disclosure of their assets, and that the agreement is equitable based on the couple's circumstances at the time of the signing. As you can see, the successful completion of a mid-marriage agreement takes time and effort, as well as cooperation and compromise between you and your spouse. For more information about New Jersey's laws on mid-marriage agreements, and whether such an agreement is appropriate for your situation, please speak with the experienced family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.