Before You Say "I Do" to a Pre-Nup…
- Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Are you a joyful bride-to-be? An eager (or nervous!) groom? Perhaps you have a son or daughter getting married this summer? Perhaps a beloved grandchild? Or maybe a lifelong friend? So many of us have a special acquaintance or family member ready to "tie the knot" in a beautiful marriage ceremony of thrilling romance and holy commitment this year. So what does any of this have to do with the law? Why am I raising the subject of weddings in my Christian legal column?
I'm writing to brides and grooms and those close to them because I want to encourage you to build the strongest possible marriage from the beginning, a marriage built on the solid foundation of God and His Word. And I'm writing because I want to encourage you not to weaken or undermine that sacred foundation by relying on destructive legal "worldly wisdom" that commonly advises you not to get married without first entering a pre-nuptial agreement.
A pre-nuptial agreement (informally called a "pre-nup") is a legal contract between a husband and a wife. It spells out in excruciating detail who owns what property, who has what legal rights, and exactly what happens if the couple gets separated or divorced. But is a binding and enforceable legal contract between husband and wife really consistent with God's plan for Christian marriage?
In an era of frequent marital break-ups and complex family structures, our cynical culture and most secular lawyers portray anyone getting married without a pre-nup as either foolish or naive. Before the wedding day, we are warned, wise couples should agree in writing what will happen if and when the marriage dissolves. But is there something wrong with this pessimistic advice? Should Christians begin their sacred marriage relationship as if it were just another business deal? Is it healthy for a husband and wife to be forced into negotiating against one another as legal adversaries, each with their own attorneys, in the days or weeks before they are joined as "one flesh" in the eyes of God?
As a Christian lawyer, I believe pre-nuptial agreements tend to undermine the marriage relationship, putting the sacred covenant on shaky ground from the beginning. God calls husband and wife to be unified - to live as one, to share freely, to trust and honor and love each other in every way. But the very process of creating and executing a pre-nup glorifies a contrary perspective, one that is destructive and disruptive to the marriage. The whole psychology of pre-nuptial agreements encourages each spouse to think of herself or himself as separate from the other, to be suspicious of the other, and to hold on tightly to "what's yours" and keep it from the other! It's the opposite of unity!
I know my thoughts on pre-nups run contrary to what most lawyers would consider "correct" legal thinking. Certainly my perspective does not fit the conventional model of standard secular legal counsel for engaged couples. But as a Christian lawyer I have no choice but to look at the legal questions we face from a biblical Christian viewpoint. I answer to a higher authority, and that authority says, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24 NRSV)
How committed to each other should a Christian husband and wife be? Should they be 50% committed? 70% committed? Is a 90% commitment enough? Isn't the answer 100%? When God teaches us about marriage, when he uses those words "one flesh," it sounds to me like God intends for husbands and wives to be 100% committed to each other. But the existence of a pre-nup sets the husband and wife at odds with each other. It's like saying to your beloved future spouse, "Honey, let's agree up front that we aren't necessarily 100% committed to each other." And that's why I'm very reluctant to endorse the use of pre-nuptial agreements. To me, they just don't seem consistent with God's design for Christian marriage.
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