With Rupert Murdoch's divorce in the news, it's a reminder that a business is a marital asset. For entrepreneurs heading down the aisle, a prenuptial agreement helps protect your business in case the marriage goes sour. But suggesting it to your partner can be messy emotional terrain.
"A prenup can be seen as very self-serving," says June Jacobson, a Manhattan-based lawyer, divorce mediator, and licensed psychotherapist. "At a time when people are committing to spend their lives together, it can really cast a shadow over the mood."
Jacobson suggests that business owners and their partners look at the prenuptial agreement in a different light, as an opportunity to discuss your expectations and shape your partnership together. "Everyone who gets married enters into a contract," she says. "A prenup enables you to write that contract."
Related: Why Rupert Murdoch's Divorce Is a Wakeup Call for Business Owners
Whether a prenup becomes productive or destructive comes down to how you have the conversation. Jacobson offers these five tips to help you discuss a prenup without messing up the marriage before it starts:
1. Start the conversation early.
If you think you might want a prenup, bring it up with your partner during your initial post-engagement talks about what you want from the marriage. "Addressing the prenup early takes the time and emotional pressure out of it," Jacobson says. It makes your partner feel more relaxed and communicates that you welcome an ongoing conversation.
2. Decide the terms together.
Presenting a pre-drafted agreement to your partner is a sure way to put them on the defensive. "Your lawyer will skew it in your favor," Jacobson says. Instead, hire a mediator and write the prenup collaboratively so you're both on equal footing. Consider it an opportunity to discuss and understand what each of you expects from the marriage.
Each of you should still hire independent attorneys to review the finished draft. "That'll increase the chance that [the agreement] be upheld if it's challenged," Jacobson says.
3. Own up to what you want.
Drafting a prenup without causing anger or resentment requires trust on both sides. Start with an honest conversation about why you want it, explaining any family history, beliefs, or experiences that shaped your view. Then keep that level of transparency throughout the process.
When you suggest a term, especially a sensitive one, help your partner understand why it's important to you. "You need to be willing to own it," Jacobson says. "Don't blame your lawyer or family to take the pressure off yourself." The more your partner understands your reasoning, the better the conversation will go.
4. Listen to your partner's concerns.
Your partner will have needs and concerns that differ from or contradict your own, so listen to their perspective with an open mind. "Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes," Jacobson says. "That sensitivity will make the conversation and the marriage go better."
When disagreements do come up, look at compromise as an opportunity for improvement. "Be creative about finding solutions that might be better for both of you," Jacobson says. Remember, you're not trying to win a battle – you’re trying to build a partnership.
5. Leave room for change over time.
A prenup has to account for events that haven't happened yet. For example, your partner may end up being very involved in your business, you may start a new company during your marriage, or your partner may leave work to stay home with the kids.
"Think through all of these possibilities and create [an agreement] that is sensitive to various outcomes," Jacobson says. Keep in mind that your partner may support your business in indirect ways as well, such as financial support while you start a new venture or emotional support in hard times. Try to come up with terms that value both of your contributions.