Still not convinced? Here are the top reasons that women physicians should get a prenuptial agreement.
1. Avoid paying alimony (in most states). A prenup can spell out whether or not a spouse will receive alimony or financial payments in the event of a divorce. This is especially important if your partner works part-time or not at all. The higher earner in the relationship—usually the physician—could potentially end up paying alimony to a partner to keep him “in the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed.” Believe it or not, that terminology is not just a cliché—it’s real, and it’s in the law. And so even if he is the one who wants the divorce, you may end up writing him a check to keep him comfortable for the rest of his life. Sound crazy? Welcome to our legal system.
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2. Keep your own property. While property that a spouse brings into the relationship (premarital property) remains the sole property of that individual, any gain in value during the marriage can be considered a marital asset, unless otherwise specified by a prenup. This can apply to family property, inheritances, jewelry, club memberships or any other items of value. You may have to sell the property in order to pay off the increase in value to your spouse, or offset the gain by cashing in other assets, which can result in a double loss if tax penalties apply.
3. Avoid paying debt incurred by your spouse. On the same token, any debts or losses that your spouse has incurred before or during the marriage can become your responsibility during a divorce. This could apply to a spouse who develops a gambling problem, takes out large credit card bills, or doesn’t pay business expenses. In addition to a prenuptial agreement, finances have to be kept separate—avoid co-mingling bank accounts and properly title businesses and properties—to completely protect yourself from your spouse’s creditors.
4. Protect your medical practice. In addition to having to share half of your income, assets and retirement plan, physicians may lose part of the value of their medical practice to a spouse, as some states consider a physician’s practice to be a marital asset. A judgment could potentially require the physician to “buy out” their spouse’s interests in the practice with cash, and can even take into consideration the potential growth and future success of the practice when calculating its financial value.[iii] The more successful the practice, the higher the potential payday for your spouse during a divorce proceeding.
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5. Clarify financial responsibilities in a marriage. Studies show that clear communication in a relationship decreases burnout for women physicians.[iv] A prenup allows you to outline the finances of the relationship—like who pays for what household bills, how you will save money for retirement or education or plan for buying a home or starting a business. This is also the place where you can agree to settle future disagreements using a mediator/arbitrator rather than the court system.[v]
6. Decrease attorney fees during a divorce. Attorney bills can be a rude awakening for physicians, who are used to performing routinely uncompensated labor, like filling out forms or returning calls from patients. Lawyers operate on a whole different level. Unlike physicians, lawyers get paid by the hour (or six-minute increment) and they bill every time they pick up the phone or answer an email. Heck, they even bill you for the time they spend billing you (try submitting that invoice to Medicare). During a divorce, physicians quickly learn the word “replenishment,” as you watch your pot of retainer money dwindle with every case management meeting or mediation appointment. It is not unusual to spend $15,000 to $20,000 on a divorce, with some contested divorces costing well over six figures when you have to start paying for items like business valuation or forensic accounting.[vi] Having a prenup can drastically reduce the cost of a divorce by avoiding unnecessary litigation.