Don’t Sign That Contract, Marriage is All about Love

Emily Yoffe, Slate’s bad relationships columnist, advises a reader not to sign a postnup. The questioner’s husband had seen to many of their neighbors getting screwed in divorce court, and did not want to live out his marriage being exposed to that threat. He asked his wife to sign a postnup giving her only 20% of the joint property, reflecting her expected contribution, instead of the 50% she was legally entitled to. He also wanted to keep the house in case of divorce, since he had fully bought it on his own before they married. He threatened to cut his risks and divorce her if she would not agree to sign it.

Yoffe explains to her that she should not sign it, since it promises her less than she is legally entitled to, and people should not consider the risks of marriage:

…your husband’s demands are ludicrous, especially given the fact that if you refuse the postnuptial and your husband becomes your ex, you will get a much larger chunk of his assets.

I hope your husband can wake up and stop treating his wife and child as depreciating assets he wants to get off the books. Maybe with help, he will realize that the damage he is about to do to the two people he should love most in the world is going to be incalculable.

So on the one hand her husband is wrong for paying attention to the risks involved in the relationship, and on the other hand, she should never give up anything of her promised cash and prizes in case of divorce. That would make marriage not profitable enough for her.

A realistic response would recognize that her husband should not have to expose himself to undue risk in exchange for investing in their relationship, and that given the unfairness of the legally mandated 50% split, and assuming she is committed to the marriage, there is no good reason not sign. Her refusal to sign actually confirms her husbands fear of exposing himself to the risk of being married to her, since she refuses to limit her options to divorce later. Yoffe says that this is a psychological problem, and probably her husband is already getting involved with someone else (it seems to be her habit to invent bad behavior to explain away men’s rational behavior). She oddly rejects his expressed rational explanation – the way he saw his friends getting screwed in court – and invents a silly explanation why he might otherwise want this marriage contract. More sane advice would encourage the woman to sign, as a way to ensure her husband that he can trust here. A reasonable response to the question would be along these lines:

Your husband is simply responding rationally to modern divorce law. You would not want to put yourself in a situation where you risk to much in case of divorce, so why do you expect your husband to take that risk? You should also need to realize that when your husband sees what his friends wives are doing to them, he asks himself how he can trust you. Signing the contract is the best way you can reassure your husband that he can trust you. If you do not sign, and especially if you do not sign for financial considerations, you are only signalling to your husband that you are a high-risk investment for him. Even though he loves you and has a child with you, it would be irrational to expect him to continue investing in you, when you cannot give him this basic reassurance, and instead you tell him that you need to keep open you option to profitably divorce him. Marriage is not about how much you take when you divorce, its about giving everything for the two people you should love most in the world. Let them know they can trust you, otherwise the damage you do to them, and to yourself, will be incalculable.

(Of course from a purely pragmatic standpoint Emily Yoffe’s advice is also wrong. Leaving all romantic consideration aside, she is probably better off going for 100% of assets during marriage+20% on divorce, rather than 50% of holding now., when they are relatively young and do not have significant assets. She will go for the 50% anyway, rather than risk getting only 20% in the future. This is all about the principle, not gross financial considerations.)

I hope this woman has many, many years as a single mother to consider the implications of her principled stand against acknowledging the financial risks and considerations of marriage. After all, marriage is only about the people you love.