The name Jennifer Wilbanks may not be recognizable to many people, but we bet her moniker of “The Runaway Bride” is. Wilbanks was given the nickname after she made the decision not to show up at her own wedding in April of 2005. Although she initially claimed to have been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a Caucasian woman and a Latino man while she was out on a run, she later retracted her story and admitted she boarded a bus to Georgia due to “personal issues.”
Her personal issues led to a nationwide manhunt, with her family very distraught and pleading for her safe return on many news outlets. Wilbanks was charged for lying to the police and eventually pled guilty to one felony charge of making a false statement. She was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay restitution to the office of the sheriff totaling $2,550 to help recoup costs for her search.
Shortly after she returned, she and her fiancé called the wedding off and broke up immediately after. Fortunately for her, she was able to fall in love again with a man named Greg Hutson in 2010. The two decided to get married; and sadly, this year the couple have decided to quietly divorce. Although the divorce was filed by Greg Hutson, the divorce process was amicable. The divorce was finalized in 30 days and the couple’s assets were divided.
What are pre-marital agreements?
Although it is not certain whether the couple had a premarital agreement in place – though given her history, we really hope they did – the divorce process is made so much simpler when a pre-marital agreement exists. In the past, both men and women have created negative perceptions of why a pre-marital agreement should exist before walking down the aisle. Premarital agreements were viewed as documents that only people of a certain socioeconomic status should seek, which is the farthest thing from the truth. Couples from all socioeconomic statuses use pre-marital agreements to their benefits. Here are some reasons why couples would want to create a pre-marital agreement.
Protecting the assets you had prior to the marriage
A premarital agreement sets rules on how a couple’s assets are passed down and distributed. In the event that the marriage ends, a pre-marital agreement outlines how all assets will be divided. Should the couple divorce, all properties will be identified and allocated as either separate, marital, or divisible property.
Separate property will generally be categorized as the assets that a spouse walked into the marriage with, while marital property will be categorized as any assets that were acquired during the marriage. Divisible property accounts for any assets or debts accumulated between the date of separation and the date for the divorce. You and your spouse have the opportunity to reach decisions about what happens to assets that you obtained prior to the marriage. Premarital agreements give both partners a chance to express their demands and future expectations in a healthy manner.
Establishing your children’s access to your assets
Although judges are not bound by any deal you have regarding child support, they may defer to it so long as it is in the best interest of the children. Inheritances, however, are a different story.
For couples with children from past relationships, a premarital agreement can help establish what types of assets can be passed down from their kids. For example, a partner can express his or her wishes to pass down any property they came into the marriage with to their children. Without a premarital agreement in place, a spouse can pass away and the surviving spouse may claim all rights to all properties, leaving the children with little to nothing.
Protecting partners from acquiring each others’ debts
A premarital agreement is not only used to separate a couple’s separate and marital assets; it can also be used to divide any debts that one or both parties have acquired. In a premarital agreement, provisions can be established that ensure that one partner will not be held liable for their partner’s debts. This can be beneficial for couples if one spouse brings a significant amount of debt to the table.
In order for these provisions to be established, however, there must be full disclosure from both parties regarding all assets and debts. Both parties need to complete a financial disclosure statement sometime during the process of creating their premarital agreement to ensure the agreement is fair and valid. Once the disclosure statement is completed, a copy must be attached to the premarital contract.
Protecting the future assets obtained during the marriage
In addition to protecting assets obtained prior to marriage, premarital agreements are a way for couples to determine how to split future assets obtained in the marriage. Both partners can put in writing how much of the marital estate will be split between each partner, for example. Usually, when a premarital agreement is not in place, the courts have the ability to divide marital property in a way they determine is fair. Sometimes judges will decide to split the marital assets in a 50/50 split; sometimes other circumstances come into play when determining how much of marital property will be distributed to each spouse. Regardless of what method the judges will decide, a premarital agreement can help couples avoid a tense legal battle over any properties instead of leaving it up to chance with a judge.
How can we protect each other in marriage?
There is not one single couple that enters a marriage with the intention of getting divorced down the line. Still, emotions and feelings change over time. In the past, premarital agreements were seen as omens on a marriage. Instead of being viewed as something that can tear marriages apart, premarital agreements provide couples the opportunity to establish provisions that can protect each other from falling victim to bad decisions made from resentment. No matter what changes occur in the marriage, everyone is protected based on the agreement created when cooler heads prevailed.
No matter how many assets you have, designing and drafting marital agreements can be complex. Pre-and post-marital agreements must be thorough and detailed – both to be enforceable and to protect you and your spouse. The Charlotte divorce attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC can work with you to ensure your contract protects your best interests. To schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers in Charlotte, Boone, Concord, or Weddington, please call 704-321-0031 or fill out the contact form on our website.