First things first: what’s a prenup?

A contract that help you protect yourself and your future spouse from conflict down the road.

A prenup, or a prenuptial agreement, is defined as a written contract you and your spouse enter into before getting legally married. It details exactly what happens to finances and assets during your marriage and, of course, in the event of divorce.

That’s the legalese version, though. For the romantics out there, what you’re really doing by creating a prenup is working with your future spouse (and your lawyers, of course) to create the laws that will control your marriage. Think of it like this: If your marriage is a country, and you and your future spouse are to be king and queen, or king and king, or queen and queen, then your prenup will detail the laws of your country. That’s a little bit more romantic, right?

At the end of the day, prenups help you protect yourself and your future spouse from conflict down the road—both during your marriage and in the case that your marriage ends. You can protect money, physical property, and other assets that you’re bringing into the marriage so that they remain yours post-divorce. Your partner can do the same with their assets. You can also decide together how you would divvy up assets you jointly acquire during the marriage. 

You may need to answer questions like…

If you’re the higher earner and pay for 70 percent of a home you buy together, how will you split the proceeds if you sell it after divorce? 

If one of you receives an inheritance, who would it belong to in the case of divorce: both of you, or just the inheritor? 

What about alimony? In the case of divorce, would one of you pay alimony? Which one of you? How much alimony would be paid?

Lots of questions, indeed. And big ones, too. But prenups don’t need to cover everything. In fact, they’re extremely customizable, and you can include as many or as few issues as you’d like. In other words, you can protect, or not protect, nearly anything you want. Let’s say you’re only worried about spousal support: you can limit your prenup to that issue alone. Or, maybe you’re mainly worried about inheritance: you can choose to have your prenup only include that issue. You can even have your prenup account for custody of pets. It’s like car or home insurance—you can elect for your insurance to cover (or not cover) certain scenarios. A prenup operates in a similar way, based on your personal needs, assets, concerns, and so on.

And on a more general educational level, by going through this process, you’re given the chance to understand what legal rights you gain—and which ones you give up—after getting married. After all, if you do split up in the future without a prenup, the laws of your state will control the terms of your division of assets and debts, as well as how spousal support will be handled. So it’s much smarter to outline your marriage’s laws yourself and on your own terms, versus allowing your state’s laws to be the default, if your marriage ends up not working out. But more on that in this article.