Divorce, social networks and prenups

It's the new math: Marriage plus social networks equals divorce.

According to the study "Social network sites, marriage well-being and divorce: Survey and state level evidence from the United States" published this month in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the use of social network sites such as Facebook, is "positively correlated with experiencing a troubled relationship and thinking about divorce."

Some of the reasons for this are that social networking allows users to be "found," and to reconnect with past relationships. These sites also allow an easy, private and continuous way to have a relationship with someone other than your spouse.

For those getting married this summer, or those planning to in the future, the new reality is that marriage only has a 50 percent chance of long term success, and social networking is not helping these odds.

It's a good idea to discuss social network use with your spouse and agree on some ground rules. One might be that you won't accept friend requests from a former partner. You might also agree that you always tell each other when you engage with a new form of social media, like Instagram, for example.

But the truth is that many marriages fail no matter how hard each spouse tries to make it work. This social networking study serves as a reminder that for many people -- especially if getting married means joining a significant amount of income, assets and obligations -- a prenuptial agreement may make sense.

A quick guide to prenups

A prenuptial agreement or "prenup" is a contract entered into by both individuals before the marriage. It addresses how financial assets, income and obligations will be divided during and after the marriage. Without one, the laws of your state will decide these issues, often at odds with what one or both spouses may want. Properly and fairly structured, these contracts can protect both spouses and ensure compensation for non-monetary contributions to a marriage.

There are also some things that can't be addressed in a prenup agreement. For example, retirement plan laws state that rights to pension and retirement plan benefits (such as 401(k) accounts), can only be waived by spouses. To protect your 401(k) account accumulated prior to the marriage you'll need to create and sign a post- marital agreement with your spouse.

If you're planning to get married, and think you should consider a prenuptial agreement, here are the items that should be included:

Purpose and effect: This clause outlines why the parties are entering into the agreement and what they intend to accomplish. It also specifies when the agreement will take effect and what property, financial assets, income and obligations are covered under the agreement.

Property rights: Three categories of property ownership should be addressed; premarital property (what you had before the marriage), marital property (what you will accumulate during the marriage) and gifts or inherited property. It should also address appreciation of these assets held during the marriage.

Support rights: This includes a waiver or limitations of support such as alimony and post-marital support payments. This can even define behavior (such as adultery or drug use), that when committed by a spouse, entitles the other to support or restitution.

Financial disclosure: This should include clear and complete disclosure of all assets and income, currently owned and projected in the future. This must accompany a valid premarital agreement.

The most common reason that a court might decide to set aside a prenup is that there was a lack of full disclosure of the financial assets before the marriage. Another is that the agreement was signed under stress and coercion. Signing these agreements within days of the wedding looks bad. It's better to address a premarital agreement months before the marriage.

Acknowledgements: Both parties must be advised by separate counsel, have adequate time to read and understand the agreement and should state that there was no coercion or duress involved with their entering into the agreement.

Legal requirements of premarital agreements vary by state. For example, in some states, the courts will interpret these contracts under the equal distribution doctrines of community property laws. In plain English: They begin with the presumption that each person gets half.

Other states will require their courts to decide post-marital financial issues under more subjective equitable distribution laws. That means the judge decides who gets what. Other states have adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, in an attempt to standardize the drafting and administration of premarital agreements.

  • Ray Martin

    View all articles by Ray Martin on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Ray Martin has been a practicing financial advisor since 1986, providing financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch.com and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.

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