No-nup or no brain?

There was a piece in the Evening Standard the other day about agreements for co-habiting couples, a “no-nup” (equivalent to the “pre-nuptial” agreement of married couples).


The theory seems to be that it’s a sensible idea.  Maybe, but I think it might well be more of a “it seemed a good idea at the time but it’s turned out expensive and divisive” idea in fact, for most couples.


 I talked in Taming the Pound about pre-nup ideas, and the basics still hold true for no-nups.


On the plus side, getting agreement is a good thing.


But is sitting down and detailing what each of you brought in and how you split the bills at the start (before pay rises, promotions, job changes, children, redundancy, changes of mind, retraining etc.) “getting agreement”?  


In the same issue of the Evening Standard (March 31st) as the no-nup article there was another piece headlined “Father sues son for return of £2m classic cars.”  Apparently the father lent four cars to the son when they had (according to the court papers), a “good relationship”. Three or four years later there are mutual accusations and a court case.  


What do you think, is the problem that they hadn’t paid a lawyer to draw up a cast iron contract – or is it that the relationship broke down?  Dad says he lent the cars and the son didn’t return them.  Dad claims his son sent a text and said they’d be returned if they never saw one another again.  That didn’t happen and now dad is suing for return of the cars in good condition or 3 million Euros in damages.  Son can’t be contacted but “is expected to contest the allegations”.  


What do you think, would a legal contract made four years before cover sending a text and cases of “he said,  (s)he said”?


I don’t think so, I think it would have meant paying fees for a contract, and then paying again when it all went sour.  So wouldn’t it have been a better investment to spend less on the cars and the legal side (like suing one another) and more on actually bonding so they talk, rather than text, and they have a relationship and don’t wish never to see one another again?


But getting back to couples, is the issue what is brought into the relationship or how things stand at one moment in time? What about changes over time, aren’t there bigger things in a relationship than who owns more of the CD collection?


I said in Taming the Pound:


I’m not talking just about practical things like wills when you have children, buy a house or get married.  I mean your ideas and values.  What do you both want from life, what would make you happy? 

Are jobs of vital importance to both, one or neither of you? 

Do either or both of you dream of doing something different, maybe travelling or conversely being centres of the local community? 

What is going to make you happy, and what is going to make your partner happy – do you know and do you ever talk about it?


Aren’t those more important issues and more likely to make or break the relationship?


Similarly, if you look into the future (whether you’re married or not), 


This starts to get more complicated if you have children. 


(and it applies to gay couples, married or not, who are adopting children)


What does the person who gives up more time do if they don’t have paid work because of children? 

Do they get to feel like a free-loader because they are not paying their share any more, does the one who is earning more pay them for their time, and if so, how much? 

What about if you earn different amounts to start with; do you allocate the value of the house in proportion to the amount you put in (so if one pays 2/3 of the mortgage and the bills, do they get 2/3) and what happens if the relative incomes change, one of you loses your job etc.?  


Also, what about cars, do you have a better car because you have more money, so your partner isn’t allowed to drive your car? 


What about if one of you wants to study for advanced qualifications or to get another job, and has to take a cut in salary to do it; do they give up their share while they are not earning, do they get paid a proportion that they pay back, how does it work?


Those are things that need to be thought about as the relationship progresses.  And they’re why I said (prophetically as it turned out).


That’s one reason why, when people say to me that “if we get married I’d insist on a pre-nuptial agreement” I tend to ask how many hundred pages they think it will need to cover everything.  Not that pre-nuptial agreements are a bad idea inherently, it is just that if you haven’t sorted out the values in the relationship (do you want children, what are your values that you want your money to help you achieve, how important to happiness are your jobs, etc.) you will have a hard time setting everything out.


You can’t rely on “we have shared values about …..,” you can’t use a shared common sense approach; you have to nail it all down in writing.  That doesn’t tend to engender trust, so if you start to write it all down, you have to write it all down.  That doesn’t just take the romance out of it, you end up with something the length of war and peace to argue about on cold winter nights! 


On the other hand you can make the assumption that your partner sees it all the same way that you do without even talking about it, and if you find you don’t share the values, either the sketchy pre-nuptial agreement isn’t going to give you the answer or you have to decide to rewrite it every few months.


So I’d suggest talking about your values in depth, then if you want to put it in writing afterwards, fine. 


Go into legal deals first off and you’ll probably never get as far as values, you’ll be too busy drawing up battle lines.  The only people who make money from disputes are lawyers, not the two of you.


And perhaps that’s the key point.  This suggestion has come from a legal firm that charges £25 per month (per month!), for unlimited legal documents (there’s never any shortage of those), a 30 minute consultation (wow, a whole 30 minutes!) and up to (which of course, includes the figure zero) off additional legal fees (which you can be sure will occur).  


Or, for about half the monthly fee you could buy Taming the Pound.  And for less than a year’s subscription you could get about four hours of consultation with me – and you wouldn’t be paying ever after.  I’d even help you make a list of what you brought into the relationship if you really want, but I honestly think that there are more important things to talk about with somebody that you’re serious enough about to consider sharing your home and your life with.







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