Celebrity watchers reeled when Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt on Sept. 19 after two years of marriage and 12 years together. While determining custody of their six children could prolong the divorce — Jolie is asking for physical custody — the task of dividing Brangelina’s estimated $400 million fortune may go quite smoothly, thanks to what is reportedly an “ironclad” prenuptial agreement.
That kind of wealth is unfathomable to most people, but the fate of their marriage is not. Forty to 50 percent of US marriages end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association, and the rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.
Given that, are prenups a good idea for all couples — and not just Hollywood royalty? Boston family law specialists have a simple answer: generally, yes.
“When the divorce rate in Massachusetts is well over 50 percent, I think people understand that there’s a need to prevent a bigger problem from coming to the surface through a divorce,” said attorney Edward L. Amaral Jr., of family law firm Amaral & Associates in Winthrop. “People have to remember that marriage is a contract.”
A contract that is all-too-frequently broken.
There are three groups most likely to enter into a prenuptial agreement, according to Boston-based family law attorney Marcia Mavrides. Two of those groups describe Jolie and Pitt: Those with high wages and high assets, and those entering their second or third marriages. (You might recall that this was Pitt’s second marriage and Jolie’s third.)
In one or both situations, the parties are entering a marriage with accumulated assets, and it makes sense to protect them.
Suffolk University law professor Marc Perlin described a person for whom a prenup would be useful as “someone who is getting married later in life for the second or third time, and wants to try and make sure property passes through to the children, perhaps, from a previous marriage.
“I haven’t checked this out,” Perlin continued, “but I bet that if you check the websites of attorneys in Florida, prenuptial agreements are much more popular” given the state’s older population.
The last group Mavrides described is perhaps the most surprising — and may reflect a growing familiarity with the realities of divorce. Today, she said, many young people seek prenups in order to clarify what would happen in the event of a divorce. They want predictability.
“Younger people are getting into them because even though they might not have assets now, they may likely inherit money from their parents or might be gifted money,” Mavrides said. “Future alimony can be addressed by prenuptial agreements.”
Boston family law and divorce attorney Andrew S. Guisbond compared getting a prenup to purchasing life insurance. It’s a way to secure a financial future for oneself and one’s loved ones, despite the unknowns of marriage.
“It’s long-range planning as well as short-range planning,” Guisbond said, “and you have to think ahead. . . . How would you know what you’re going to accumulate during the marriage? You never know.”
Experts concede that a prenup isn’t the most romantic way to start a life with someone. It certainly flies in the face of the fairy tale many engaged couples envision for their lives together. But according to Steve E. Gurdin, a partner at Fitch Law Partners in Boston, it is practical.
“Marriage generally presents a lot of rewards, and potentially a lot of risk,” Gurdin said. “In connection with the risk side of the equation, you can try and control it by having a prenup.”
Perlin echoed that sentiment: “Marriages last forever. Until divorce.”