"If you ain't no punk
Holler, 'We want prenup!'
'We want prenup, yeah!'"
-- Kanye West, "Gold Digger"

OK, it probably doesn't rank up there with candlelight dinners and diamond rings for setting a romantic tone for the night, but Fools who are thinking about getting married really ought to consider the benefits of a prenuptial agreement before tying the knot.

One in three first-time marriages ends in divorce. That number jumps to one in two for second and third marriages. As a friend's father once toasted at his rehearsal dinner, "Marriage is a sacred institution. It's something a man only does ... two or three times in his life!" The line played to great laughs, but the fact remains that divorce is an ever-present reality. And because finances are one of the leading causes of divorce, you should look to a prenuptial agreement as a necessary financial planning aid to protect yourself.

You don't have to be as rich as Donald Trump to need a prenup. (Trump, by the way, has used three of them so far.) In fact, it may be even wiser for the person who has only a small nest egg to get one, since losing half of what was hard to accumulate in the first place would come as a heavy blow.

If you own assets such as a house, stocks, retirement funds, or pension plans; if you own a business; if you have children from a previous marriage or elderly parents who will need caring for; or if one of you is far richer than the other, you ought to get a prenuptial agreement.

Sure, you don't want to have to consider dissolving the union, but a little forethought now can prevent a lot of acrimony later on. Experts agree that the discussions of a prenup should come early on in the relationship -- perhaps not on the first date, but certainly as it becomes apparent that the two of you are more serious about your intentions. Although it won't be an easy discussion, it is important that you honestly convey your feelings.

Together, draw up a list of your individual assets and discuss why you want them protected. Yes, there may be charges of lack of trust or love, but marriages are every bit as much a financial union as an emotional one. Whatever you do, don't hide assets from your loved one. First, that does show a lack of trust and honesty that needs to be present for a marriage to work. Second, and equally important to our discussion, is that your agreement may become void should it be found out that you hid assets. Since you're drawing up an agreement to protect what you own, you may as well put it out there and have it protected.

Next, hire separate attorneys and have everything done properly. Amy Irving got $100 million from movie mogul Steven Spielberg because they drew up their prenup on a napkin. The judge ultimately believed that the agreement was unfair and so decided it was invalid. So don't cheap out at this stage. Each of you should get a lawyer and have the legal eagles work out the details together.

However, don't do this on the night before your wedding vows. The courts might view that as coercion. Give the other person plenty of time -- at least weeks before the Big Day, or better yet, before you even send out the invitations. That way, your future mate can decide whether he or she really wants to go through with everything.

If you're really intent on being committed to the institution of marriage, then you seriously need to consider getting a prenuptial agreement. Without one, a third party, not you and your spouse, will decide how your assets are distributed. Considering that most of the country is governed by "equitable distribution" laws, it will be the courts that decide what is just and fair, and that may not be just or fair at all.

We all want our marriages to work, and we don't want to think about getting a divorce even before we've taken our vows. Yet as sacred as a wedding is, we also don't want our financial lives being ruined a few years down the road because we lacked the courage to realize that "till death do us part" doesn't always work out. Do yourself and your spouse-to-be a favor, and get a prenup.

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