Millennials Killed Napkins, But They’re Resuscitating Prenups

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This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

Millennials Killed Napkins, But They're Resuscitating Prenups

Millennials have killed a lot of things. (What can a napkin do that a paper towel can’t? And canned tuna? Please. What’s the point?) And yet, from these ashes a rebirth has sprung. Millennials — those of selfie, signature pink, and selling-out fame — are getting prenups.

A 2016 study conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 51% of polled attorneys saw an increase in prenuptial agreements among millennial couples in recent years — with contracts most commonly citing “protection of separate property,” “alimony/spousal maintenance,” and “division of property.” Considering this is a generation that’s less concerned about “what’s mine is yours” and more into the 50-cent Venmo request, it’s hardly surprising. But it’s also reflective of a larger generational trend — that of putting career advancement before settling down and therefore having more individual assets to bring into a marriage.

Prenups get a terrible rap in pop culture. They smack of gold diggers, designed to suck you dry “when she leave yo’ ass.” A paper contract with all the sexiness of a gynecologist’s stirrups. A divorce plan before you’re even married. But this reputation is sexist at worst and hardly accurate at best. Prenuptial agreements are arguably no more than a worst-case-scenario plan, which should be fair for both partners — no matter who comes into the marriage with more assets — in part because they necessitate important financial conversations and set you up for more open discussions in the future. And what could be more romantic than that?

Ahead, we talked to five millennial women about why they got a prenup, who initiated the conversation, and how they feel about it today.

C., 30, Los Angeles, CA

Why did you get a prenup?

The process was initiated by my husband. He’s an investment manager, and he always advises his clients to get prenups. He has seen a lot of divorces with his clients and some of the messiness that can come from not having a prenup. It’s something he’s always pushed for, and it wasn’t that much of a surprise to me when he brought it up.

In the beginning, we both sat down with the same attorney just to discuss the outlines of what we wanted, and then we each got our own lawyers. At home, we would discuss the details of what we wanted together, and then we just kept going back and forth.

What was your initial reaction? Were you immediately on board?

I was not on board. When we first started dating four years ago, he kind of mentioned that when he got married, he wanted a prenup. At that point in our relationship, my stance was “No way am I getting a prenup if I get married.” I don’t personally know anybody who has one — none of my friends or family — so really my only exposure to it was on TV, and I always viewed it as a negative. I was completely against it. He really wanted one, but we never spoke about it again. I felt like he knew my stance on it, so when he proposed, I thought he had accepted that I didn’t want a prenup. I was mistaken. After he proposed last year, we didn’t talk about it until three months before the wedding, when he said: “I think I really want this.”

That added a lot more stress to our relationship for sure, because we were three months from the wedding and the negotiation process of the prenup was emotionally taxing and put a real strain on our relationship. We had already sent out wedding invitations, but there was this question of, What if we can’t agree on a prenup? What would we do? That was a nightmare.

What were the terms of the prenup?

My husband wanted a prenup because he owns a company, not because he has a lot of wealth. He and his partner both agreed to get prenups when they got married to avoid having a portion of the company awarded to an ex-spouse in the case of divorce.

What did your families think about the prenup?

We’re both Asian, but I’m Chinese and he’s Asian-American, and I think my family’s values are just very different from his. In my culture, if you get married, you just join everything. You don’t plan for a marriage to fail, and I think after he brought up this prenup, my family kind of saw him a little differently. Like, who is this guy trying to protect himself?

As for his family, they’re all for it. They all think it’s a great idea. My husband has seen a lot of divorce among his friends and family — his uncle has been divorced twice — and his family advised him to do it.

I talked to my close friends and my siblings about it, and none of them understood why he wanted a prenup, because he really doesn’t have much money to protect, and I come from a more wealthy family than he does. I have a lot more assets than he does and a lot more family money.

So the prenup protects you as well.

Yes, and after discussing the final details of the prenup, I think it does protect me in that I feel safe, and after explaining this to my family, they do feel like it’s a good idea. I know it’s a good move, and I would advise my friends to do it if they want and if they can ignore the fact that it’s such an unromantic move. I think in the end, it does protect us both.

Rene, 26, Los Angeles, CA

Why are you getting a prenup?

My fiancé is a dual citizen, and he’s from a Scandinavian country. They do have prenups there, but they aren’t as common as they are in the U.S.

We’re getting married in the States, but my fiancé owns a company back in his home country, and in case anything went wrong with the company, or alternatively, if the company totally took off and there was any reason that we would separate, which there isn’t going to be, then he would be protected as well.

We’re having a lawyer look over some things with our prenup, as we’re still not completely sure if it would hold up if we were in my fiancé’s home country.

What do your families think about the prenup?

I think his family feels better with us having this agreement. And I want to be on their side and do the right thing. We know that we love each other, and we’re not afraid of anything happening, so it’s more for them to feel like he’s still protected while he’s in the U.S.

But it was awkward with them at first. It’s hard, because they speak a different language, so during the conversations that were being held, I only understood about one-third of what everybody was saying. But everybody acted like it was totally normal. They talked about it so casually, and I was like, Oh, I never even thought of that. No one in my family has ever had a prenup, but I guess when you’re in a different country and you think differently, then things happen differently.

My family doesn’t know. They’re ultra-conservative and probably would be afraid for our marriage. It’s not worth telling them.

Have you told any of your friends?

I’m not bringing it up in conversation, but if they find out, it’s fine, and I’m not trying to hide it. I don’t think a lot of them know what he’s worth, and a lot of people don’t know he has a company in Scandinavia. People think his job in L.A. is his main job, but he definitely does other things on the side.

What are the terms of your prenup?

You can get really specific with what you put into it, down to saying you want your dog to have dog daycare. But our prenup only focuses on his company and the money he has back home.

Did your opinion on prenups and the conversation around them change as you had this experience?

Yeah. After talking to an attorney about it, I was like, Oh, people do this all the time. You don’t want people to think you’re planning on getting a divorce, because we’re absolutely not. Both sets of our parents are happily married, and we’re super happy — it’s not about that.

You don’t even have to have a lot of money to have a prenup. It gave us a much better idea about our finances — like, I had no idea about some of his assets back home. I knew his family was well off, but I didn’t know how that translated into his own wealth. We hadn’t really talked about that at all. So it was good to have a reason to get really specific. Obviously, people can do that in premarital counseling, but this is a good way to get out all the questions with a mediator.

It was a super smooth process. Nobody goes into a prenup thinking you’re gonna get a divorce. You go into it to protect each other.

E.*, 33, New York City

Why are you getting a prenup?

My fiancé and I come from very different financial backgrounds. I grew up in a working-class family that has experienced a good amount of financial hardship, and through a combination of education, good luck, and work, I have managed to achieve my own financial stability and now earn a six-figure income. But my fiancé’s family has billions of dollars of wealth, so he grew up very well off and with great financial security. It was always expected that if he were to marry anybody, even someone who had similar wealth, there would be a prenuptial agreement. It was definitely something that we talked about prior to getting engaged as our relationship became more serious. He asked me how I would feel about getting a prenup, and I wasn’t surprised when he proposed it, given his family situation.

I think that there really are benefits for both of us in having the prenup — for me, because I experienced a lot of financial insecurity and hardship as a child. Having a prenup that maps out what will happen in all the worst-case scenarios. There is something reassuring to me about having this document that says if, God forbid, we get divorced, or one of us dies, or one of us becomes disabled, this is what happens.

How did your family feel about it?

When I mentioned it to my mom, she was a little shocked and told me not to do it. She felt like it meant we were going into our marriage with the wrong mindset, and that we were already planning to get divorced. I think because my family is working-class, their concept of prenups is entirely from movies and TV — my mom doesn’t know anyone personally who ever had a prenup, since usually prenups are something that only wealthier people do. I explained to her that it doesn’t mean we’re going in with doubts about our marriage, it just means we want to have the mentality of hoping for the best and planning for the worst.

I also told her that the prenup covers so much more than just divorce — it covers deaths, disability, real estate, and who handles maintenance of the real estate. Once I explained that to her, she seemed to understand. When I mentioned it to my siblings, they didn’t really react. I think it’s something that’s pretty foreign to them, again because of the difference in class background, and that’s actually something that’s been really difficult for me in doing the prenup. There aren’t a lot of available resources where you can learn about how it all works and the different kinds of things you can cover. I would love to be able to talk to other women who have gone through the process to know what they wish they’d done differently, or things that helped them in the process.

What are the terms of your prenup?

It’s funny — when I was first talking to my lawyer and he was walking me through the kinds of things prenups often cover, he talked about real estate and financial assets, obviously, but he also said that recently a lot of his clients want to have social media clauses — provisions that say if there is a divorce, neither party can post defamatory content on social media about the other person. We don’t have anything like that, but I was fascinated to know that’s actually a thing people include in a legal document.

Our agreement is really focused on things like what would happen to my fiancé’s estate if he were to die before me, what percentage I would inherit. Or what would happen to any real estate that we might own if we got divorced. If we did divorce, I wouldn’t receive alimony — I would instead receive a lump sum.

Do you talk about this with friends?

It’s not something I talk about with any friends, in part because there is a lot of taboo associated with talking about money, particularly as women. I’m also aware that some of the issues I’m encountering with my prenup are extreme first-world problems. My friends are not wealthy people, so it’s not relatable stuff to talk to them about, and I worry about making people feel kind of uncomfortable. So I feel it’s just better to work through with my therapist and in couples therapy. We started going to couples therapy around the time we started working on the prenup, because we knew it was going to bring up a lot of issues for us. We’ve found therapy to be very helpful in terms of giving us a mutual space to work through some of the emotions and anxiety it has brought up.

Still, I wish it was something that I felt able to talk about more with friends or with my siblings. But in some ways, talking about the prenup involves talking about my fiancé’s family wealth, which is something I’m not very comfortable discussing with people.

*Initial has been changed.

Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial Takes On Investing, 29, New York City

Why did you get a prenup?

I’m an author and I own a business — Broke Millennial — so the reason I wanted a prenup was primarily because I was already building a brand into a business, and I was coming into the marriage already having published one book. I wanted to ensure that in the instance of a divorce, the Broke Millennial brand and all of its entities would be mine and mine alone.

I’m fine to split royalties that are generated while we’re married, but in the instance of a divorce, I wanted control over any future royalties. I’m very analytical when it comes to thinking about this, and I think that’s jarring for some people. I wouldn’t go into any other contract, especially a business contract, without protection — so why would I get married without protecting myself and my husband? Marriage is one of the biggest financial decisions of your life. I understand that it’s based on love and trust, but at the same time, you have to recognize that it is a contract and you are merging assets, so it’s incredibly important that everybody is protected.

Also, I know myself as a person, and I could certainly get vindictive if we got divorced (I know it’s not one of my best qualities). My thought was, if we had a prenup, a legal document that we created when we are very much in love, it would ensure that we would be kind and generous to each other, and that we won’t be nitpicking and vindictive and trying to enact some sort of revenge on each other if something went wrong. Because the divorce might not be amicable. My way of making light of the whole situation early on was to say to my future husband: I am trying to protect you from a future potentially vindictive version of me.

Was it awkward when you brought it up with your husband?

I write about money professionally, so he is used to me bringing up potentially awkward conversations about money. It’s almost par for the course in our relationship. I brought it up a year or two before we got engaged, and we were together eight years before we got married, so we had been through a lot of hypothetical conversations about marriage, including how we would handle our finances. As my brand started to build, I told him I thought it would be prudent for us to have a prenup. And another reason I wanted one is because it provided just one more layer of legal separation between our personal assets and my business, and also made it very clear that what he brought in was his. I wanted to protect him just in case anything happened to my business.

He also came into our relationship with student-loan debt, while I was debt-free. A big part of my narrative is how I picked my college based on staying debt-free, and we had a lot of conversations about what student loans meant in the context of getting married and merging our money. I’m very much of the mindset that when you get married, you’re a team and you’re financially operating as a team, so I knew that I was going to be very proactive helping him pay down his student loans. But then there needed to be some measure of protection on my end, in case something went wrong. So that was one thing we discussed when it came to getting a prenup. I think people often think that when you get married, your spouse’s debt becomes your debt, but that’s not true. His debt would only be my responsibility if I co-signed on it, which I have not. So if we got divorced tomorrow, it’s not suddenly going to be 50% mine.

I got some backlash when I talked about getting a prenup on social media, from people who said I don’t love and trust my husband enough. I think that’s such an interesting knee-jerk response, because it’s incredibly naive to go into what could be five or six decades of commitment and not think that of course it’s a possibility things will fail. Just like when you get behind the wheel of a car, you don’t hope you get in a car accident, but it could happen.

A lot of times people who are anti-prenup will say something along the lines of “I’d never divorce my spouse.” And the issue is, you cannot control another person’s actions. You may never intend to divorce a spouse, but you have no control over whether or not your spouse will leave you. Also, since speaking publicly about my own prenup, more people have told me in confidence that they have one.

What are the terms of your prenup?

Most of our prenup focuses on my business, and it also focuses on our retirement plan. When I started doing research about whether it made sense to get a prenup, I kept reading horror stories about people who lost a lot of their retirement savings in divorce. My husband is a public-school teacher, so he has a pension, and I wanted to make sure that stays protected for him, and that the money that I’m putting aside for my retirement stays protected for me. He was also very prudent to think through what would happen if one of us left the workforce. A lot of our prenup is written under the assumption that we will both stay working. But in the case that one of us steps back and takes care of children, there is a provision there that says the other one would need to help financially, because we waived alimony in our prenup.

What did your families think?

Our families weren’t very involved. I think that it can be really uncomfortable to talk to parents about it, depending on what their stance is. A lot of people think of it as a divorce contract, and I would love to change that stigma. I would love to reframe it as just a protective measure. Think of it as an insurance policy on your marriage. You sure hope it doesn’t go wrong and that everything stays great, but if you’re in it for decades, it’s just good to be protected. Also, it’s expensive to get one, so you only want to get one if you need it. And going through the process, whether or not you sign the documents in the end, forces you to really have nitty-gritty conversations about your finances, which sets you up for a very successful marriage.

How long did the prenup process take?

It went pretty quickly once we decided to do it. Each person needs a lawyer, and that can get expensive. I recommend getting on the same page before you start talking to the lawyers, so you can minimize billable hours. Like, do you want to keep or waive alimony? How do you want to protect assets you’re bringing into the marriage? What about assets accumulated during the marriage in the case of a divorce?

And if you go in with an idea of what you want, and it’s a pretty cut-and-dry prenup, then it shouldn’t take terribly long. I think in all, ours took maybe eight weeks, and that was with us not being super pushy about it needing to get it done quickly. But I would give yourself a few months.

R.*, 29, OP of this Money Diary, Austin, TX

Why did you get a prenup?

In February 2016, I lost both my grandmother and my father, and I inherited $400,000. My grandma had investments, and my dad had life insurance and a 401(k). I’m an only child, so I inherited my dad’s entire estate. Then in July 2016, my now-husband proposed. I knew for over a year that I wanted to marry him, and we had discussed it plenty. I’m really open about my finances with my friends and my family, and shortly after we got engaged, my mom mentioned the idea of a prenup to me. My best friend also brought it up and said I should really consider getting one. I was nervous at first — I didn’t want to have a negative conversation about it with my husband, and I didn’t want him to think that I was dooming our marriage.

Texas is a community property state, so if after a year he went crazy and became a completely different person, he could very well end up with half of the money I inherited. After thinking about it, I did a ton of research and realized that a prenup doesn’t even require lawyers, as long as it’s signed in front of a notary and witnesses. Eventually, I brought it up and told him it was something that I thought we should do. I explained to him that I didn’t want him to think that I didn’t trust him or didn’t see us succeeding as a couple, but that it would be financially irresponsible and dumb not to do it. He agreed, and at first wanted me to manage the whole thing. But I explained that I wanted it to be something that we figured out together, because I didn’t want it to be unfair.

How did his family feel about it?

Oh, they have no idea. We both grew up with low-income single mothers, and he doesn’t discuss money with his family because they aren’t very good with their money.

What were the terms?

Assuming a normal, amicable divorce where we just didn’t want to be married anymore, he would get $10,000 for every year we were married. But then we set a 30-year mark, where we would just split everything after 30 years of marriage because we would both be retired at that point. And I wouldn’t want him to feel like he had to stay married because he had no other way to pay his bills if he’s 60 and has his whole retirement tied with mine and doesn’t have enough to retire on his own.

In addition to the inheritance, the prenup includes an agreement about our house. If we got divorced and needed to sell the house, we would split the profit, less the down payment, which I paid using $40,000 of my inheritance. So I would get the full down payment back. We bought our house before we were married, and the mortgage is in my name only, since my husband didn’t have a consistent job history at the time. We knew that we were getting married, so it didn’t actually matter that he wasn’t on the mortgage because he gets half of the house anyway.

*Initial has been changed.

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