Generally speaking, premarital agreements are usually a good idea for couples in Chicago who are getting married. In a premarital agreement, which is also known as a prenuptial agreement or simply a “prenup,” the parties can come to terms on issues such as spousal maintenance and property division in the event of a divorce. Some matters cannot be negotiated through a premarital agreement, such as child support. Are premarital agreements always a good thing? While they can certainly protect one or both of the parties if the couple ends up getting divorced, an article in Psychology Today suggests that the desire for a premarital agreement can in some cases be a sign of controlling tendencies.
What should couples who are planning to get married and considering a prenuptial agreement know about the psychological aspects underlying premarital agreements?
As we mentioned, premarital agreements in general are beneficial in the event of divorce regardless of the present income or future earning capacity of the parties. There may be some situations in which one party exercises unfair control over the other in a way that does not rise to the level of duress (or, in other words, enough to invalidate the agreement). The Illinois Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (750 ILCS 10/) specifies that there are only certain scenarios in which a prenup can be invalidated.
There are some straightforward scenarios in which a premarital agreement can be invalidated, such as when the agreement was not signed until after the marriage or when one of the parties clearly lied about assets or another issue. The statute also makes clear that duress or coercion can invalidate a premarital agreement, too. But what does duress or coercion actually look like? Is it simply unequal bargaining power if the party that is seemingly being coerced has agreed to the terms?
The Psychology Today article describes a scenario in which Party A tells Party B, just a few days before the wedding, that they need to enter into a premarital agreement in order to protect the family business of Party A. Party B goes to Party A’s attorney’s office and agrees, both verbally and in writing, to the contract and also makes clear that she understands the terms and is agreeing to them of her own free will. But if Party B refused to sign, the wedding might be called off by Party A. Is there actually duress or coercion here? Certainly, there may be unequal bargaining power, but that is not necessarily enough to invalidate a prenup.
More immediately, regardless of whether the premarital agreement is valid, the article suggests that the type of scenario described above may be a sign that Party A is engaging in a practice known as “coercive control.” According to the article, “coercive control is a strategy some people use to control their intimate partners,” and it “can include any combination of isolation, manipulation, intimidation, stalking, sexual coercion, and sometimes even physical violence.”
In other words, coercive control can result in a problematic marriage and likely may lead to divorce. While the desire for a premarital agreement should never on its own be viewed as a sign of coercive control, the ways in which a couple discusses a prenup can illuminate potential issues to come in the marriage. For example, if the couple discusses the premarital agreement together and agrees to terms well in advance of the wedding day, that scenario looks much different than the hypothetical situation we described above.
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