AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: What does "prenup" mean? That's a question from listener Muhammad Ali in Karachi, Pakistan.
RS: A prenup is a prenuptial agreement, a contract between two people before they marry about how they will handle their finances and other matters should the partnership end. Attorney Marlene Eskind Moses is president-elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
MARLENE MOSES: "Generally speaking, prenuptial agreements are recognized as valid agreements amongst people if the terms of the agreement are valid and, moreover, if everything involving the agreement takes place. And those kinds of things generally that are required is that you have to have a full and complete understanding and disclosure of the assets, there needs to be independent counsel, and there needs not to be any duress or any undue influence.
"And we interpret that to mean a lot of times that you don't want an agreement that the parties are signing right when they're getting ready to walk down the aisle and the guests have been invited."
RS: "What would you find in a prenuptial agreement? What are common things -- "
AA: "Terms. And what would be valid versus invalid terms in a prenup?"
MARLENE MOSES: "Well, something that would be detrimental to the society. I mean, it could be that there'll be no child support being paid, and if somebody's going to be on public welfare or assistance, certainly that would create difficulties for the state. But generally the kinds of terms that are included are terms having to do with assets and/or liabilities that people bring into the marriage. And yes, lots of times, I think early on probably the wealthy were those that used them the most -- "
AA: "Movie stars and the like."
MARLENE MOSES: "Yes, yes, absolutely. But it's becoming really more and more commonplace."
AA: "Even in a recession? I mean, is that playing any role in what you're seeing, these having to be enforced or pulled out of a desk drawer or something? Are you seeing any effect from the recession?"
MARLENE MOSES: "Well, what's happened as a result of the recession are the assets that people are protecting are worth less. But they're still being protected. And people are thinking about their assets going into a marriage, thinking about, you know, 'Well, I do want to hold on to what little I do have now in comparison to what I had before the recession.'"
AA: "I'm assuming it's the lawyer who writes the final document ... or is it up to the couple to write it?"
RS: "Or can you do your own?"
MARLENE MOSES: "It's a contract, and so depending on contract law, people are free to contract, typically. But the question is, one of the elements oftentimes is that people have independent counsel or have the ability to have retained independent counsel, so that the [agreement] that has been reached can be scrutinized.
"An example of a prenuptial agreement that wouldn't be upheld would be one that would leave somebody out penniless and a public charge. And the court then would say 'We cannot enforce this prenuptial agreement because it's not equitable.'"
RS: "Can I ask you a personal question?"
MARLENE MOSES: "Sure."
RS: "Do you have a prenuptial agreement -- are you married?"
MARLENE MOSES: "I am married. It'll be thirty-seven years in June. When my husband and I entered in our marriage, we were just really sort of building from the beginning. And that's one of those examples when you're not coming in with much and you build yourselves. So there really wasn't a need for us to have a prenuptial agreement when we married."
RS: "Well, did you make a postnuptial agreement?"
AA: "Do people do that?"
MARLENE MOSES: "No, but people do do that. And we've not had a need to do that, but that is another contract between people. And in that instance it would be between married people. And there has to be consideration, there has to be a bargain in exchange for entering into the agreement. It's not just keeping the marriage together in some instances. There has to be a real reason to have a postnuptial agreement. But people are finding those very useful as well."
AA: Marlene Eskind Moses in Nashville, Tennessee, is president-elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
RS: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. Archives are at voanews.com/wordmaster. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.