A Wise Step Before Marriage
By Jackie Sheckler Finch | Photography courtesy of Miles Mason
Developing a prenuptial agreement before walking down the aisle can solve difficult problems later on.
First comes love, then comes marriage. So goes the old rhyme. But somewhere between those two major life events should be an important legal matter called a prenuptial agreement, says Memphis lawyer Miles Mason Sr.
“A prenuptial agreement makes the future more predictable than otherwise,” says Mason, a divorce lawyer at Miles Mason Family Law Group. “Legally speaking, prenuptial agreements seek to bind parties to a particular distribution of wealth in the event of divorce or death.”
Without a prenuptial agreement, “in the event of a divorce, the particular state law in which they both live will control,” Mason says. “In the event of a death, the will and state law where the decedent resided will control.”
With a prenuptial agreement, a couple can agree in advance how they would like their property divided in the case of a divorce or death. A misconception that prenuptial agreements are only for the wealthy is not true, Mason says. Such legal documents are important for anyone considering marriage as a way to try and prevent disagreements over what has been accumulated in a marriage.
Prenuptial agreements have become more common in recent years, Mason says. “It may be a function of an aging population.”
People marrying later in life or for a second time may have already accumulated assets which could become contentious in a divorce. Or one person’s earning potential could be decreased by the marriage.
“There are many circumstances in which a prenuptial agreement is practical from the perspective of the less-properties spouse,” Mason says. “A supported spouse may want protection or compensation from leaving the work force.”
For example, the prospective bride may be a 45-year-old woman who earns $100,000 a year.
“Your future husband wants you to quit your job and travel with him on business,” he explains. “You may be out of the workplace for 10 high-earning years. It is reasonable for the future wife to want to have financial insurance in the event the relationship ends.”
It’s not uncommon that one partner will stop working outside the home to focus on raising a couple’s children. If divorce happens, the stay-at-home parent may find it difficult to get back into the workforce and business world. A prenuptial agreement can help protect the financial responsibilities in such a case.
People preparing to say “I do” may have children from prior marriages which makes it important to protect in writing the future of those children.
“A prenuptial agreement will ensure property division at death or divorce is rational and protects the interests of the children,” Mason says. “This is usually done as part of the estate planning process.”
Pets also are furry family members to many couples and can spark nasty custody battles when couples divorce. Sometimes the decision of where a pet will live isn’t made without a fight, even to the point of judicial intervention.
Because a pet is legally considered personal property, that means a marrying person can use a prenuptial agreement to ensure that a pet will remain that person’s no matter what happens in the future of the marriage. If the pet belonged to either spouse before the marriage, the case is much clearer that it should belong to that same spouse after the divorce.
To create a prenuptial agreement, each person needs to get his or her own separate lawyer, Mason advises. Both parties are required to fully disclose all their financial assets and debts.
Born in Memphis, Mason says he loves the city and his family’s history in it. He and his wife, Sharon, live in their native town with two daughters and a son.
“Both my family and my wife’s family have been here for over 100 years,” Mason says.
Mason’s father, the late Jack Mason, was a certified public accountant with his own accounting practice in Memphis for 35 years. Sharon’s father is the late Judge Joe B. Jones, presiding judge of Tennessee’s Court of Criminal Appeals and Mason’s early mentor in law.
Mason attended Christian Brothers High School, as did his father, brothers and son. Mason was inducted into the Christian Brothers High School Hall of Fame.
“My wife and daughters went to St. Agnes,” he says. “We feel part of the community. Memphis is small enough that every time I walk into a restaurant, I will know someone.”
An attorney for 25 years, Mason says the profession was his childhood ambition.
“At an early age, I caused problems,” he says. “I loved to read. I was really good at math. I loved negotiating. Drove my parents crazy.”
Seeing his parents split up three times when he was in high school helped influence his decision to become a lawyer. “I saw their pain. But they kept me out of it, which was a real blessing.”
As an attorney, “service of others is the highest calling, certainly,” Mason says. “But from a personal perspective, I love getting to know and having professional relationships with the other lawyers, judges, elected officials, and just being part of the whole community.”
Negotiating for a living is “fascinating,” he says. “I love the stress. Conflict doesn’t bother me. My days are never boring.”