prenuptial agreement

Is There Such a Thing as a Christian Prenuptial Agreement?

PrenuptialAbout six weeks ago, I was contacted by Patricia Hartman asking me to read and review her book The Christian Prenuptial Agreement. She had read an earlier post in which I had disagreed with Dave Ramsey’s premise for prenuptial agreements. She sent me a copy of the book, challenging me to read it and change my mind on the issue. As part of the agreement for receiving the free book, I agreed to write a post about the book—positive or negative. So here it is. As you will see below, the author has offered some interesting ideas, but her book has not swayed my opinion that prenuptial agreements are unbiblical.

Hartman approaches the task of writing her book from a very practical standpoint. She is a forensic CPA aiding clients who are going through divorce. Also having experienced “losses when [her] ex-husband had left [her] years earlier” (7), it is clear that she wants her readers to avoid the struggles and pain that she and her clients have experienced. There is no doubt in my mind that Hartman wants to protect marriage, but it appears that her personal experience is driving her conclusions.

The author places a great deal of importance upon the prenuptial agreement. She notes:

Your Christian prenup may be the very document that holds your marriage together when life gets tough. (8)

Your prenup has the ability to release an amazing power and energy into your marriage. (35)

Your prenup gives you the opportunity to thwart Satan’s attempts to derail your marriage and is your greatest insurance policy against his attacks. (58)

Unfortunately, I believe this trust in the prenuptial agreement is misplaced. She has elevated the prenuptial agreement to the place of a covenant and fails to distinguish the practical effects of what she calls a “Christian” prenuptial agreement from the effects of a secular one.

A Biblical Mandate?

Is the prenuptial agreement a biblical mandate? Hartman states:

Based upon God’s revelations in Scripture, Christians have a duty to write a prenuptial agreement to acknowledge their vows and covenants that follow God’s laws and precepts, rejecting the counter-Christian laws and culture as a witness to the glory of God. We have a duty to right the wrongs that exist or may be imposed by the government. Further, God recorded His covenants as a witness to His commitment and love for us in His Word. In the same way, we have a duty to record our covenant agreements as a witness to our commitment and our commitment and our love for one another. (25)

Building on the idea that talk is cheap and most couples do not understand the implications of their verbal vows (235–236), Hartman argues that couples ought to have a prenuptial agreement that includes their vows. In addition, she claims that God’s covenants are written and we should follow suit with marriage.

By contrast, most of the covenants recorded by Moses, God’s “first official scribe” (23), were verbal covenants in force for generations before Moses ever wrote the Pentateuch. The first explicit covenant in Scripture—God’s covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:1–17—was a verbal covenant that was binding hundreds of years before Moses ever recorded the words. In fact, most covenants were not written in the Old Testament until long after they were established. To apply the standards of the OT covenants to marriage today, one need only express the covenant verbally, and it is binding. Sure, there are advantages to recording one’s vows, but there is no biblical mandate to have a legal document drafted by separate attorneys and signed before a covenant is biblically established.

A Lack of Trust

Hartman correctly notes that trust is a major issue for prenuptial agreements. She writes, “One of the most common objections to prenups is that they imply a lack of trust. That is indeed true for a secular prenup, but if we truly grasp the depravity of man, should we trust our fiancé?” (45). She goes on to explain that our sinfulness makes it difficult for someone to trust us. Since God is the only one we can trust fully, she believes that a prenuptial agreement reminds us that God is the only one we trust.

The problem with this perspective is that the prenuptial agreement effectively places trust in the legal process in case of problems. It does not point to trust in God but trust in the courts. When surveying the sample Christian prenuptial agreement in the book, the vast majority of it describes remedies for the court in case of separation or divorce. This does not put trust in God’s provisions; instead, it trusts the court and the prenuptial agreement to make provision for the parties in case of marriage failure.

The sample prenuptial agreement is actually the most intriguing part of the book for the issue of trust. Besides a testimony section, vows, and some references to Scripture, most of it looks much like a secular prenuptial agreement. It spends three pages addressing provisions for divorce, another page on separation, and significant portions on how much each spouse is going to work, how finances will be handled, and how to divide the estate upon death.

The section on divorce opens by saying, “The parties agree not to use violation of the terms of this agreement as a basis for filing divorce” (264); however, it immediately proceeds to discuss the grounds on which divorce can be filed and how the process will play out. Despite a critique of the lack of trust in secular prenuptial agreements, the Christian version offers little more in the way of trust.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

The final area of critique for the Christian prenuptial agreement presented by Hartman is an overwhelming focus on details. There are a host of issues that most engaged and newly married couples do not yet grasp about marriage. Pre-marital counseling can certainly help them see some of these issues in advance; however, Hartman’s book provides a list of details to be discussed (and many included in the prenuptial agreement) that could be overwhelming to a couple. Included in the prenuptial agreement are decisions about how much each spouse will work, investment goals, how to educate children, and the sale of property owned before marriage. In addition to some of these details in the prenuptial agreement, the author directs engaged couples to make decisions on issues such as how to use vacation time, how often to have sexual intercourse, whether to give children allowances, and what types of food to keep in the house. These are details that often come up over time in a marriage, but are not of the utmost importance to a successful marriage. Many of the decisions related to these issues could change a number of times just in the first few years of marriage.

With such a focus on the minutiae, I fear that Hartman has lost the larger picture of marriage. The covenant of marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church. When we first come to faith in Christ, we do not have a full picture of all the details. As we grow in our faith, we recognize the sacrifice of this covenant relationship and how it impacts every aspect of our lives.

Helpful Hints

Up to this point, my discussion of the book has been rather critical; however, I want to close with a few positive points about the work. First, there are a number of questions and exercises in the book that are beneficial for pre-martial counseling. In addition to some standard discussions of faith, finances, and in-laws, I found her suggestion to discuss medical history quite helpful. Most young couples do not even think about family medical history, but a tragedy could make such information very useful to a spouse.

Second, I appreciate Hartman’s desire to end the cycle of divorce. While I do not agree that a Christian prenuptial agreement is the solution, I can appreciate her heart for seeing marriages thrive.

Third, her discussion of God’s desires for married couples in chapter 6 was encouraging. Apart from just a couple minor disagreements, I believe she clearly articulated the biblical expectations for men and women in marriage. She is to be commended for her focus on these theological matters.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I stand where I have stood for years on the issue of prenuptial agreements—they do not accurately depict the biblical vision of marriage. When a man and woman come together in marriage, they reflect the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church. In giving himself for the church, Christ gave up everything. The church then submits herself to Christ. This is the model of marriage found in Ephesians 5:22–33. As Christians we are called to depict this relationship in our marriages. Even as sinners, we are called to holiness. Our faith in Christ is enough to unleash the power of marriage. No legal document is necessary to protect God’s design for marriage.

I close with this admonition for those who may face difficulties in marriage and wonder what to do.

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

Christ had everything to lose entering into a “marriage” with the church. He knew we would be unfaithful, but “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” When all hope seems lost, trust in the fact that Christ remains faithful—that is the motivation you need to unleash the power of marriage.

Prenuptial Agreements: Disagreeing with Dave Ramsey

I love listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio. I have implemented much of what he teaches in my family’s finances. I don’t always agree with everything Dave has to say, but rarely is my disagreement so ardent.

I was listening to Dave several days ago, and a gentleman called in to ask about a marriage question as it relates to finances. He was about to get married, but many people had told him he needed a prenuptial agreement. The caller seemed hesitant to do it so he asked Dave’s advice. Dave asked the necessary questions to estimate his caller’s net worth, and it came to $1.5 million. Even though it was slightly under Dave’s threshold of $2 million, Dave advised him to get a prenuptial agreement in place before the wedding. His rationale? Crazy people are attracted to money. Dave assured the caller that his future bride is probably not crazy, but she probably had someone crazy in her family (don’t we all?) who might try to take his money if the relationship went south.

On Dave’s website, he clarifies his stance on prenuptial agreements with the following response to a listener:

There is a bad spirit over prenups. It’s planning your divorce in advance. What you put your eyes on is what you end up getting.

There is one exception to this rule. If your fiancée is an heiress and was wealthy already, I would change my answer. If I die and my wife remarries, I have told her to get a prenuptial agreement. When there is extreme wealth, more than a couple million dollars, weirdness is attracted to that. When I’m dealing with a professional athlete making millions of dollars a year, I recommend a prenuptial agreement.

In the specific conversation (in print on his website), Dave suggests that wealth can bring a host of problems to the marriage that need to be addressed in pre-marital counseling. He says:

Because of the wealth, you have a higher potential to attract weirdness. I think you’ve got a valid concern. I also think you need to do a lot of premarital counseling and discussion about money because you have an extra strain on your marriage. You don’t—as a man—want to put money on a bigger pedestal than your wife. You want to love her well before you love money well. Having said that, you have this extra responsibility and strain on your relationship. You really need to dig into that in your premarital counseling and talk that through because it’s a potential stumbling block for you later on.

So Dave is generally against prenuptials for the right reasons—they basically admit you are not committed to the relationship already and want to divide up the spoils before the divorce ever comes. They just don’t communicate the spirit of marriage—two becoming one. Dave even regularly recommends pre-marital counseling with a pastor for engaged couples. However, Dave changes his advice about prenuptials on the basis of wealth before marriage. Why is it fine if you’re already worth $2 million or more? His only rationale is that money attracts weird people.

While I respect Dave’s opinion, I believe he is being inconsistent on this point. Marriage is marriage no matter how much money is involved. Yes, wealth can bring extra strain to the relationship, as can poverty. Those marrying into money can be perceived as (and sometimes are) gold-diggers. However, marriage is the union of a man and a woman as one in all aspects of their lives. Otherwise, it is just a contract with the terms for the dissolution of the contract drawn up before things begin. Marriage is more than signing a cell phone contract for two years with a $250 penalty for switching providers early.

Should the church have anything to say about prenuptial agreements? Certainly! As pastors perform pre-marital counseling and teach about marriage from the pulpit, I believe they should describe how prenuptial agreements detract from the God-ordained picture of marriage. They take away from the idea of two becoming one flesh (Gen 2:24).

In addition, prenuptials are directly antithetical to the picture of marriage as the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph 5:22–33). If there were anyone who deserved a prenuptial agreement, it is Christ in his relationship with the church. His surpassing riches of grace (Eph 2:7) far exceed the paltry contribution that we bring to this divine marriage. Our wealth is like filth by comparison. However, Christ gives all of himself to his bride knowing that she will at times be a little weird and perhaps even unfaithful. Thankfully, we can be assured that: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13).

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Dave Ramsey, “Dave’s Thoughts On Prenuptial Agreements,” daveramsey.com.

Dave Ramsey, “This Case Calls For A Prenup,” daveramsey.com.