Penny For Your Thoughts: Is It Tacky To Ask For An “If I Become Rich” Prenup?

September 8, 2015  |  

This one is for all big-career dreamers who might be living paycheck to paycheck right now, but who are also making serious (or even semi-serious) moves toward a ridiculously prosperous future. I’m talking to you, Miss I’mma Be, or Miss I’mma Do who hasn’t quite become or done anything just yet. 

Would you (though you may currently have little to no wealth) ask your fiancé (who may or may not have wealth) to sign a prenup to protect the nonexistent millions that you hope to one day make?

It sounds like a silly question but bear with me for a bit.

See, I’ve been reading about Giada De Laurentiis over the last few days. Last week, People reported that the petite and irrepressibly perky TV chef and cookbook author is getting divorced. Evidently, De Laurentiis didn’t have a prenup. Her husband, to whom she was married for 11 years, will receive 50 percent of the royalties from all the books that she published while they were married. He will also walk away with half of any unpaid advances for projects she currently has in the works. (Not to mention that she will pay him $9,000 in child support.)

Of course, De Laurentiis’s divorce has prompted some “Why didn’t she have a prenup?” raised eyebrows around the Internet. But when I did the math, it appears that De Laurentiis married her husband the very same year that she began her career as a TV host on Food Network (which at that time was a relatively young network and not the renown enterprise that we now know it to be). Therefore, she may not have thought a prenup was in order. TV hosts sometimes earn only about $42,000 a year. And she probably had zero inkling that the celebrity chef industry would become as lucrative as it has. In fact, De Laurentiis said she had dreams of becoming a pastry chef, not being in the limelight.

I’d speculate that on the day that she said “I do,” De Laurentiis had no idea about the powerhouse she could become in the food biz. But what if she did have an inkling or even more than an inkling? What if she had a clear vision of all the cookbooks that she would write and the shows that she would host and the restaurant that she would open?  Would it have been reasonable for her to ask her then-soon-to-be hubby to sign a prenup based on money that she dreamed of making one day but didn’t have at the time? 

Of course, I’m speculating here. This is purely a philosophical discussion about marriage and money. I’m meandering on a hypothetical journey and asking you to think about what it means to walk down the aisle as a bride, but have a very vivid idea of the woman you hope that bride will become over the next five, 10, 20 years. And that woman, in the future you as you see her, is exponentially wealthier.

Like many driven women, I’ve got big financial dreams for myself (namely, nabbing a lucrative book deal and writing a hit best seller that becomes a springboard for other money-making ventures). I’m nowhere near getting married, but, in a fictional scenario where I actually did have a fiancé, would it be unreasonable for me to think so highly and hopefully about my future that I would ask my soon-to-be spouse to sign a prenup in order to be with my imaginary rich future self (whom I may or may not become)?

MadameNoire has covered the prenup question before, but my speculation about the timeline of De Laurentiis’s marriage made me curious as to whether the prenup question changes when you aren’t particularly wealthy going into a marriage. So over the weekend, I tracked down James T. McLaren, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, for some insight.

While McLaren explained that “prenups are typically designed for people that have known wealth or reasonably expensive assets and high-level income,” he also conceded that it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility (or legality) to establish an agreement “protecting the income that you produce during a marriage as non-marital property.” Granted, those initial terms that McLaren used –“wealth,” “expensive” and “high-level”– are somewhat subjective. For some of us, “wealth” is having a lot of cash tucked away in a 401K and a “high-level income” is in the low six figures. But for others, those hallmarks are just the upper-middle-class version of getting by or one step above living paycheck to paycheck.

Still, McLaren emphasizes that the nature of a prenup is to protect the stuff people actually possess. The money and assets they currently have or the money that they most certainly will acquire, say, through a family business or a future inheritance. Prenups are not necessarily a tool for saying, “Oh, I’m just a ____ right now. But just you wait and see! I’m gonna be a rich and famous ___ one day! And if things between me and you, dear fiancé, fall apart after I’ve become a rich and famous ____, I may just want to keep all of that for which I’ve worked so hard.”

Now, I know plenty of people who aren’t rich who dream of being rich. I’m not suggesting that everyone get “just in case” prenups so we can keep our theoretical Powerball jackpot to ourselves. When I talk about my dreams of being wealthy one day, I’d like to think I’m not living on a wing and a prayer. A wishing-on-a-star daily habit of buying lottery tickets or pulling casino levers and crossing my fingers. No, I’m thinking deeper than that. At 38 years old, I have been writing professionally for nearly 15 years. The way I see it, I just might be in the prime time of my career comeuppance. Writing has one of those “You just never know” trajectories. Toni Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, when she was about 39 or 40. And decades later she would become a New York Times best-selling author after Oprah Winfrey chose Morrison’s third novel, Song of Solomon, for her book club (nearly 20 years after the book was originally published).

Black women are constantly inventing and reinventing themselves. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay worked for years in public relations. But she debuted a feature film at Sundance when she was 40 years old and became the first African-American woman to win the prize for best director. It was an honor that would beget numerous other big breaks that eventually marched her toward the director’s chair of Selma.

Granted, I know that people’s I’mma Be, and I’mma Do aspirations about becoming this or that may only be pipe dreams. I’m certainly not in denial about the very real possibility that I may dwell in paycheck-to-paycheck valley for the rest of my life.

But…what if I don’t?

So, I ask you: If you, too, have serious I’mma Be, and I’mma Do goals that are guiding your everyday hustle, would you factor them into your marital planning? Even if you’re not currently experiencing high-level financial success?

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