Learning more about Texas prenuptial agreements

The prenuptial agreement is one of the most debated legal documents in use today. Most of the controversy comes not from the agreements themselves, but from how people perceive them. Some people see them as powerful tools that can be used to protect both spouses from future contention by taking key property division issues off the table. Others view them in a much less altruistic light, painting these types of contracts as being responsible for the death of a couple's romantic love before the marriage begins, even going so far as to say that they can "doom" a marriage to failure.

The reality

The truth is that premarital agreements can serve an invaluable purpose in the right hands, and are versatile enough to be used not only in marriages where there is a huge wealth disparity between the parties, but also for couples of more modest means. The Texas legislature and family court system apparently see the value in prenups, having adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreements Act nearly 20 years ago.

Texas laws governing premarital agreements can be found in Chapter 4 of Title 1 of the state's Family Code. The law allows couples to use prenuptial agreements to cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • Property distribution upon dissolution
  • Alimony/spousal support
  • Rights and obligations of each party during the marriage
  • Life insurance
  • Preventing certain assets (like family heirlooms, for example) from being considered part of the "marital estate" in the event of a divorce, thus protecting the property for other beneficiaries
  • Treatment of preexisting debt of both parties

The law favors enforceability of contracts in general, but recognizes that premarital agreements that are unfairly drafted or signed under duress should not hold up in court. In order to be enforceable in Texas, prenuptial agreements must be:

  • Signed voluntarily
  • Not dictate terms in violation of public policy (terms that are criminal in nature or purport to disavow a party of the need to pay child support, for example)
  • Based upon full disclosure of each party's premarital financial assets, and
  • Involve no fraudulent actions or intentions by either party

Failure to follow these guidelines can result in the agreement being stricken in its entirety, or prevent the enforceability of particular provisions.

An evolution

Some couples are going beyond the traditional scope of a prenuptial agreement - traditionally focused solely on property rights - to dictate behaviors and activities during the marriage itself. So-called "lifestyle provisions" are becoming more common, and can involve everything from setting minimum health standards for the parties to establishing the level of intimacy the couple expects to enjoy. These types of provisions do not always stand up to scrutiny, though, and are much harder to enforce than traditional property or asset-based terms.

Do you have questions about enforcing an existing Texas premarital agreement? Want more information about drafting a prenup before your marriage? An experienced Texas family law attorney can answer your questions and address any concerns you may have about whether a prenuptial agreement is right for you.