Are You a Puppet in Your Own Prenup? by Cheryl Stein

In sync with the current day, age, and New York City demographic, I have been doing a substantial amount of prenuptial agreements. The underlying dynamics and personalities are critical defining variables. One such dynamic that has recently been popping up in a nearly extreme and cartoonish manner is the “Puppet In Their Own Prenup!” or “Where’s Waldo?!” scenarios. This is where one of the parties is AWOL from the entire negotiation and preparation process and the whole agreement is orchestrated on their behalf, typically by their family, family’s arsenal of attorneys, tax and financial strategists/planners, or just the party’s individual matrimonial attorney.   

The puppet in these cases often has never read the agreement for him- or herself and does not know the content or how much the agreement cost, as it was paid for by others, and simply blanket signs at the end of the process to formalize the agreement.

Needless to say, this is a lamentable practice, as it is an attorney’s responsibility to ensure the client read the agreement and understood its terms before executing. Even if the party’s parent bankrolled the agreement and was the one in direct contact with the prenup attorney, it is the marrying party signing the document who is the real client, a fact that should never be lost!  

A case in point was one where both clients were high net worth, but one significantly more so than the other, as the family owned multiple international businesses. The bride-to-be was a spirited, roll-up-her-sleeve and do-it-herself young woman. She became intimidated when she was presented with the prenup by a team of attorneys and tax experts whom her future father-in-law hired for the task; her fiancé was completely uninvolved in the process and did not know what was flying.

She came to me and we turned the situation around to one where she understood the prenup in its entirety, and we negotiated it to be favorable towards her. She felt more confident and emboldened by the process, and it ended up being a great experience for her. Her fiancé was never involved in the negotiations and did not know the content of the agreement; he did not particularly care about it. He was quite young and did not really grasp his own net worth, so the process was meaningless to him.

The main attorney on the groom’s side responsible for overseeing the prenup candidly admitted that he was so focused on pleasing the groom’s father, who had hired him, and his team of experts that he never paid much mind to the actual groom and reviewing the agreement with him. The groom was an after-thought, practically a guest at his own wedding.

Another case presented an attorney who handled the prenup as if she were personally negotiating her own prenup. The client was a puppet to her own attorney’s wishes. What the client really wanted was for her attorney to explain the various options she had in each situation, and to decide what was best for herself without her attorney supplanting her own personal wishes in the agreement.  

It is best practice to encourage clients to be active in their own prenups, so they can understand the process from beginning to end. It is critical to ensure that both signatories, the bride and groom, have read the agreement for themselves. In fact, my retainer agreement specifically states that part of my service is to ensure that each person involved understands the ramifications of the provisions in the agreement.

If you find yourself needing a prenup, don’t let yourself be a puppet!

Feel free to contact us with your prenuptial agreement related questions.

Cheryl Stein, Esq.
The Law and Mediation Offices of Cheryl Stein
745 Fifth Avenue, Suite 500
New York, NY 10151
Phone: (646) 884-2324