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Should your prenup serve as a relationship contract?

If you're in a serious relationship, you may have considered setting up a prenuptial agreement. No, it's not terribly romantic, but it's still a good idea. You see, whether or not you negotiate an agreement, you will still have to deal with many of the same issues. Who owns what? What is the fairest way to divide our shared property? Would alimony be appropriate if we break up?

The main topic of a prenup is your agreement about what should happen if the relationship ends. It typically lists any separate property you have and discusses how you would expect to divide shared property if you were to divorce. It often lays out whether one partner would receive alimony.

What a prenuptial agreement typically can't cover is child custody, visitation and support. Issues involving children have to be determined in the best interest of the child, and most states, including Florida, don't allow children's issues to be included in a prenuptial agreement.

A big reason many couples benefit from a prenup is that negotiating one helps you learn to talk about financial issues. But could your prenup cover general relationship issues, like spending time together, division of housework and shared savings goals?

In the larger world, contracts cover a wide variety of subjects. One couple profiled in the New York Times has set up an overall relationship contract. Although they're not married, could the same thing work for you, in principle?

A relationship contract may be helpful but might not be enforceable

You can write a contract about virtually anything, but it's important to know that a court probably won't enforce your agreement to swap laundry weeks. A civil court might give you financial damages if the other party breaches the agreement, but the amount may be too small for any but small claims court. Because your relationship contract may not be enforceable, you may wish to keep it separate from your official prenup.

So the point of your relationship contract is not to make it enforceable by a court, but rather to develop a shared understanding of expectations and a mechanism for resolving disputes. Both a shared understanding and a dispute resolution mechanism will be helpful to you regardless of whether the contract is enforceable.

One great thing the couple in the Times did was to set up a regular time to review and revise the contract. That may be essential as your relationship evolves and things change.

The upshot is that a prenup gives you the opportunity to negotiate other issues, as well. A contract won't solve everything, but it can help give you a solid foundation for your marriage.

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