How to strengthen marriages through postnuptial agreements

In a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 50 percent of divorce attorneys noted that, since 2012, they have seen a marked uptick in spouses seeking postnuptial agreements.

These contracts were once viewed as a sign that marriage was going poorly. A spouse would, for instance, demand a postnuptial agreement from his or her partner as a punishment for bad behavior - in the wake of an affair, for example, or as a hedge against financial mismanagement. An article that appeared earlier this month in Harper's Bazaar, however, that postnups are increasingly being leveraged to save marriages.

What is a postnuptial agreement?

A postnuptial agreement is a legal contract signed after marriage. It spells out how a couple's assets will be divided in the event of a divorce or separation. Agreements can be broad or narrow - they might include provisions for an entire estate, or only for a single asset (i.e. one's house or one's car). Likewise, they often include provisions concerning any potential child support or spousal support payments, as well as any debts the couple is likely to incur.

As detailed in the Wall Street Journal, a common reason spouses sign postnups is if one of them has "committed marital misconduct" and the wronged party wants protection in case of a future divorce. Perhaps more simply put: the wronged party can demand, as a condition for staying together, that certain assets will go to them in the event that the marriage ultimately fails.

Why are they useful now?

But in an age where many marriages are second marriages, and spouses enter wedlock with children and houses of their own, postnups are a useful hedge against financial stress. They ensure a modicum of independence within marriage and guarantee that one's assets will remain safeguarded.

For this reason, couples with substantial means often draft postnups. Seal and Heidi Klum, for example, signed an agreement that protected Klum's modeling wealth ($70 million, reportedly) from being divided during divorce. But millennials are using them, too, to preserve any business ventures they kick-start, as well as any assets they receive from their parents.

Indeed, the stigma surrounding postnuptial agreements has dissipated almost completely. Once tools of punishment, they are now tools for collaboration and stability.