Contracts Between Spouses

Contracts Between Spouses: Protect Your Rights

patrickcrawford | March 30, 2020

While marriage might seem like a romantic prospect to many people, it is essentially a legal agreement and relationship between two spouses. In some situations, people planning to marry or who are already married can benefit from signing legal contracts that help define certain terms of their relationship. If you think that you might want to sign a prenuptial agreement, postnuptial agreement, or separation agreement with your spouse, you want to make sure that your rights and interests are protected. You want the guidance of a prenuptial and separation agreements attorney in Annapolis.

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements are signed before a couple gets married. The terms of a prenuptial agreement can vary significantly, and your contract should be specifically tailored to your circumstances and concerns. While many people might think that prenuptial agreements are unromantic, they can be critical in certain situations.

Some reasons why you might want to consider drafting and signing a prenuptial agreement include:

  • There is a disparity of wealth between spouses
  • One spouse received or expects to receive a hefty inheritance
  • You have children from a previous marriage
  • You or your spouse owns a business
  • One spouse works and the other plans to not work

Prenuptial agreements can set terms in the event the marriage ends in divorce. This includes which property will be considered separate or marital property, which spouse is entitled to which assets, whether one spouse is entitled to alimony, and more. Establishing rights and obligations upfront can help to avoid time-consuming and expensive court proceedings should one spouse seek a divorce. 

It is essential to have a prenuptial agreement properly drafted, as these contracts are often challenged in a divorce. You want to ensure your agreement is enforceable, which requires:

  • The terms of the agreement are not unfair, oppressive, one-sided, or unconscionable
  • Both parties voluntarily agree to sign the contract
  • Each party disclosed all relevant financial information to the other party
  • Neither party was coerced or induced by fraud to sign the prenup
  • The agreement does not violate the rights of one party
  • The agreement does not leave one spouse destitute while the other has wealth

When you sign a premarital agreement, you want an attorney protecting your interests by reviewing, negotiating, and drafting the contract. 

Postnuptial Agreements

Some spouses fail to sign a prenuptial agreement but later realize the importance of this type of contract. In this situation, you can sign a postnuptial agreement, which is similar to a prenup, except it is signed after marriage. This type of agreement addresses similar issues, including how the spouses will divide marital property and debts, what will remain as separate property, rights to spousal support, spousal inheritance rights, and more. 

For postnuptial agreements to be valid, they must be:

  • Properly executed and voluntarily signed by both spouses
  • Have fair terms that are not unconscionable
  • Be based on full and fair disclosure by both spouses, and not be induced by fraud or misrepresentation

Even if you did not decide to sign a prenuptial agreement, you can still try to prevent complex litigation in divorce by signing a postnuptial agreement at a later date. 

Separation Agreements

Another time spousal contracts might come into play is if two spouses decide to get separated. Many people might separate without immediate plans to file for divorce, and separating your households can be a complicated matter. Who gets what property? Does one spouse need financial support? Where will the children live and when? These are all important issues that should be addressed. 

Some states have something called “legal separation” that can be declared by the court, but Maryland does not have legal separation. Instead, spouses are either married or they are divorced. However, if you are separated for any reason, it is possible for you and your spouse to sign an out-of-court contract known as a separation agreement. 

In order to ensure your separation agreement is enforceable, it should be properly drafted, signed by both spouses, and notarized. This agreement can set out many terms of the separation, including:

  • Who gets to remain in the family home
  • How the responsibility of paying debts and bills will be divided
  • Which spouse gets which personal property and belongings
  • Which assets can each spouse access and use
  • How will the spouses divide physical custody and legal custody, which involves decision-making for the child
  • Will one spouse pay child support or spousal support to the other

Some of the above issues might be contentious, and it might take time for the spouses to agree on the terms of their separation agreement. There are different ways to come to a consensus regarding your agreement provisions, including:

  • Informal negotiation between your attorneys
  • Mediation
  • Litigation

If you cannot reach an agreement regarding child-related issues, the court can step in and issue a custody order. However, litigation is costly, time-consuming, and stressful in many cases. It is almost always preferable to reach an agreement on your own outside of court regarding your separation agreement.

If you decide to file for divorce at a later date, your separation agreement can serve as the basis of your divorce settlement. If the terms of your separation are working for both of you, you can use those terms to reach a settlement agreement for your divorce, which will help speed up the process and avoid going to court in most scenarios. You should always have an attorney reviewing a separation agreement to ensure your rights are protected and that the agreement is fair and enforceable.

How a Lawyer Can Help

Every engagement or marriage has unique circumstances, and those should be reflected in any type of spousal contract. When you meet with an experienced lawyer, they will want to know the details of your situation, as well as what you would like to accomplish with your agreement.

The right attorney will review the possible terms of an agreement in light of your circumstances and Maryland law. We know how to adjust provisions based on your goals and how your interests will best be protected. These agreements should be fair and should protect the rights of both spouses, and a skilled family law attorney can help you decide on terms that do just that. 

If you are unsure whether you should have an agreement in place, a lawyer can review your situation and advise of the possible benefits and drawbacks of signing a contract. Never hesitate to call for legal guidance if you are wondering whether an agreement is right for you and your spouse. 

Consult with a Prenuptial and Separation Agreements Attorney in Annapolis

When you think of contracts, you likely think of business transactions – not marital relationships. However, contracts can be highly beneficial for spouses, whether they are engaged, already married, or getting separated. If a contract is not properly drafted and negotiated, however, it might do more harm than good. This is why it is important to always have an experienced Annapolis prenuptial and separation agreements lawyer representing you when you sign a marital contract.

The Law Office of Patrick Crawford helps clients with every aspect of family law – including prenuptial, postnuptial, and separation agreements. If you would like to discuss your options, please call (410) 216-7905 or contact us online for your consultation today.

Patrick Crawford

Patrick is an Annapolis Family Lawyer dedicated to helping you through the most complex and emotional family law matters. During his career, Patrick has successfully represented countless people in divorce, child custody, child support, domestic violence and other family law cases of diverse complexity.

Years of experience: 20+ years.
Maryland Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Patrick Crawford, who has more than 16 years of legal experience practicing family law.