A postnuptial or "postnup" agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement, but this legal contract is written and signed after the couple is legally wed.

A postnup contract outlines how assets will be divided. It also may contain numerous other provisions dictating marital conduct—from the division of household chores to monogamy expectations to the allowable number of mother-in-law visits.

Key Takeaways

  • A postnup agreement is written after a couple is legally married.
    There are various reasons for a post-up contract, but one common reason is to ensure financial security in the case of a divorce. 
  • A postnup agreement usually has to do with financial assets, but it can contain anything—from how often in-laws can visit or how the couple will share household chores.  
  • You may need or want a postnup contract if you have children from previous marriages or own a business. 
  • Not all states recognize a postnup contract, so it is wise to consult with an attorney regarding martial contracts and divorce laws. 

You Need a Postnup When…

Postnuptial agreements have become common in recent years, and they are honored and enforceable in most U.S. states. Most postnups are mostly about money and protecting assets in the case of a divorce, and postnups may be written when a couple is in crisis or concerned about the state of their union. If you wonder whether or not you and your spouse need a postnuptial agreement, you may want to consider the following areas of potential concern.

1. One (or Both) of You Are Wealthy

Divorce attorneys agree that postnups are must-haves for spouses who either enter the marriage with significant pre-marital assets or expect to inherit significant future assets. In these situations, a postnuptial agreement can help ensure that each spouse exits the union "whole," with the holdings they brought in in the event of a divorce.

2. You have Children From a Previous Marriage

In cases of co-mingled families, postnups can pre-determine the share of assets your spouse will receive in the event of a divorce or your death, thus ensuring your offspring will receive the inheritance you want them to pocket. In most cases, without a signed postnuptial agreement spelling out these details, states automatically give the current spouses a share of your estate upon your death. 

Some state laws dictate the division of joint property in cases of divorce, as well. Before you sign a postnup, ask your lawyer about the laws in the state you live in, or if you are relocating, your future home state.

3. You or Your Spouse Owns a Business

A postnup can also protect the income or assets you earn during the marriage. This is crucial for spouses who own their own companies. Without a postnup, an ex-spouse may be entitled to collect a percentage of the business or its earnings.

4. You Hated the Idea of a Prenup But Now You Want One

Some people believe that negotiating prenuptial agreements is a pointless and stress-inducing exercise, where the very act of contemplating divorce can doom a marriage from the start. Many couples opt for postnups simply because they don’t want awkward discussions about the division of assets before their big happy day. Therefore, these negotiations might proceed more smoothly once the newlyweds have settled down into their marital routine. 

5. You Recently Received a Large Inheritance

If one of you unexpectedly receives a sizable bequest or a gift from a family member, you may want to consider a postnup. Under normal circumstances, new assets become joint assets; therefore, a postnup can help keep said assets earmarked just for you in case of a marital split.

The Bottom Line

In certain marital situations, a postnup is strongly recommended for spouses who didn't sign a prenup. Postnups are particularly beneficial when one or both partners have significant pre-marital assets or children from previous marriages. With failed marriages, postnups can eliminate expensive and acrimonious divorce battles. If a marriage succeeds until death, a postnup can prevent inheritance disputes between a person’s surviving spouse and their heirs.

With contractually delineated terms in place, you and your spouse know who gets what, with little wiggle room for argument. Working together with a trusted lawyer can allow the process of creating a postnup contract (relatively) pain-free.