Antenuptial: a written agreement involving the assets and earnings of two people who are about to marry.
An antenuptial or prenuptial contract outlines the terms that, after the marriage, will govern the possession and treatment of the couple’s assets and earnings, as well as the division or disposition of the same in case of divorce or the death of one party. The agreement essentially protects the assets acquired by each spouse before the nuptials, whether or not either or both parties used these assets within the marriage.
An antenuptial agreement can also protect one spouse’s assets obtained from a preceding marriage, including the interests of any children from that prior marriage. Provided the agreement is well-drafted, it is enough to ensure that all non-marital assets will remain so, co-mingled or not. Additionally, an antenuptial agreement can resolve issues outside of a will in the event of one spouse’s death.
However, not all prenuptial agreements are enforceable. For example, if the contract was signed with one spouse under duress or the terms unreasonably favor one spouse over the other, the judge can rule against its enforcement. And because people and situations change with time, the court will only test for unconscionability when it is sought rather than upon the agreement’s execution.
Real-World Example of an Antenuptial Agreement
Edward was thirty-two, and Jessica was twenty-one when they married. Before that, they had signed an antenuptial contract stipulating that, should they divorce, all assets acquired within their union would go to Edward, and Jessica will not receive alimony. Edward put up a food franchise business that eventually clicked and made him a millionaire during their marriage. Jessica became a full-time housewife with four children in her wing.
When the couple divorced seventeen years later, the court did not enforce the couple’s antenuptial agreement. The judge ruled it unconscionable to withhold Jessica from any of the couple’s assets and earnings acquired within their marriage or deny her support once they dissolved their union.
Significance of Antenuptial Agreements
Many often mistake antenuptial agreements as a modern legal creation, but these documents have been around for millennia. However, they have evolved significantly in form and function alongside changes in society’s perceptions on divorce, women’s rights, and related legal systems.
Among the oldest antenuptial agreements is a two-thousand-year-old Hebrew marriage contract scholars trace to ancient Egypt. Dowry, a popular European custom, is a prenuptial agreement that first came to the fore in the ninth century. Legend even goes that English King Edward IV and his wife Eleanor Butler signed such a contract before they tied the knot.
Nowadays, antenuptial agreements have become very common across social strata. While originally reserved for the wealthy, modern couples have found the most practical reasons to have them. It is also worth noting that marriages back then were entered to gain economic advantage rather than love, which most likely led to the first antenuptial agreements in history. Moreover, courts are more likely to enforce such contracts today than in the past.