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第3册 - Unit 9, Section A - Premarital Agreements

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A future husband wanted to be sure that if his marriage didn't work out, he could keep his treasuredice-cream collection safely stored away in a freezer. A woman insisted on verifying who would walk thedog. One man wanted the right to get a divorce if his bride-to-be gained more than 15 pounds once shebecame his wife.

These are some of the crazier clauses of prenuptial agreements. But make no mistake about it, whatmost of them are about is money - and how financial assets will be divided up if a couple divorces. Anddivorce with its accompanying money problems is common in the United States.

Prenuptial agreements - or 'prenups' - are designed to address these problems as they arise.

Prenups are negotiated by lawyers for the prospective spouses, and signed before a minister bindsthem in marriage. They have been gaining in acceptance in the United States since the early 1980s,when more states began passing laws that affected the division of financial assets in a divorce. The lawsare based either on 'community property' (split evenly) or on 'reasonable distribution' (whatever ajudge thinks is 'fair').

The prenups of the famous make the headlines: lawyers for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis contestedthe prenuptial agreement between her and Aristotle Onassis after his death, reportedly winning $26million in an out-of-court settlement.

But prenuptial agreements are also for lesser known, although wealthy folks. 'It's because divorcehas such great economic consequences, and successive marriages have become so common,' said afamily law lawyer.

A typical candidate for a prenuptial agreement is a man who has accumulated considerable wealth,has already been stung once, and wants to reduce his exposure to future problems. 'They want tomake their own arrangements, rather than let a court decide,' said the president of the New Yorkchapter of the American Academy of Marriage Lawyers.

Protecting children from a previous marriage is a strong reason for prenuptial contracts. 'Someonemay have an estate of $1 billion and he may not want a second spouse to get a payment of half a billion.

He may want more for his children,' said a lawyer. The effort to shield assets to be passed on tochildren and grandchildren is making prenups more common among retired people in their 60s and70s who are remarrying after a spouse has died.

Another situation that calls for premarital agreements occurs when a potential spouse has, or is inline for, great inherited wealth or a family business, especially if the future partner has little or nothingat all.

But even when both parties have signed such an agreement, it can be impossible to enforce it incourt if proper guidelines have not been followed. A lawyer is required to write the document, formistakes in language - even a misplaced preposition - can be disastrous. But never, ever, warnmarriage law consultants, should you use the same lawyer as your future spouse does.

Another problem is a prenuptial agreement signed under pressure. To avoid this, some lawyers willnot draw up an agreement once a wedding date has been set. 'I figure there's a sword hanging overtheir head, and that's pressure,' they said. Such lawyers counsel their clients never to send outwedding invitations until both signatures are on an agreement.

But not everyone takes this advice. A classic example is cited by lawyers: 'An agreement is stuckunder somebody's nose on the day of the wedding - and it's usually a 'she' - and she signs, but doesn'teven read it.' Another lawyer recalled one awkward episode where the two sides were still editing thecontract, arguing over what to keep and delete, as 150 wedding guests were arriving for the wedding.

When an agreement could not be forged, the wedding was canceled.

A dispute can also break out over prenuptial agreements if a couple decides to divorce while livingabroad, or when they have different passports. A lawyer in a London law firm that often handlesdivorces for British-American couples noted that in Britain, prenuptial agreements were 'just aboutignored' by the courts because English law says that circumstances of a marriage aren't static, andtherefore a judge should decide how financial assets will be divided.

That can lead to 'court-shopping', since what matters is the law of the country where the couple isgetting divorced. He gave the following example: 'A wealthy Mr. Ed Smith gets married to Mrs.Smith,and they enter into a New York prenuptial contract. They live in England, and then decide to getdivorced. English lawyers will say to Mrs. Smith, 'No, that contract is not valid,' while Mr.Smith willwant it to be an American case. The issue of where it will be held can greatly multiply the amount oftime required to reach a settlement.'Romantic love has no bearing on this process, say these lawyers, who consider prenups to bebusiness agreements. Their justification: some 50 percent of all marriages in the United States end upon the trash heap.

Moreover, the discussions for a prenuptial agreement, which involve laying bare all one's finances,sometimes save a couple from a terrible marriage. 'It sheds light on issues which could later widen andresult in divorce,' said a lawyer.

But there is still hope. 'Many people sign an agreement, put it in a drawer and never look at itagain,' the lawyer added.

一位即将结婚的男子希望能够确保即使婚姻失败,他仍可以把他珍爱的冰淇淋藏品好好储存在冰柜里。

一名女子坚持要求明确婚后由谁来遛狗。

一名男子要求,如果他未来的新娘婚后体重增加15磅以上,他有权离婚。

以上这些都是婚前协议中一些比较荒唐的条款。

但是不要弄错了,大多数婚前协议涉及到的都是钱──以及一旦离婚该怎样分配财产。

而且,离婚及其带来的钱财纠纷,在美国是很常见的事。

婚前协议──简称prenup──就是用来处理这些问题的。

婚前协议由即将结婚的男女双方的律师共同协定,然后由双方在牧师宣布他们结为夫妻之前签署。

自20世纪80年代初以来,婚前协议在美国被越来越多的人接受,因为当时越来越多的州开始通过关于离婚财产分配的法律。

这些法律要么是基于"共有财产"(平均分配),要么是基于"合理分配"(法官认为怎样"公平"就怎样分)。

名人的婚前协议总是新闻头条:杰奎琳·肯尼迪·奥纳西斯的律师在亚里士多德·奥纳西斯死后拿出两人的婚前协议对簿公堂,据说她后来在庭外和解中得到了2,600万美元。

但婚前协议也适用于那些不甚有名却很富有的人。

"这是因为离婚会带来巨大的经济后果,而再婚又如此常见,"一位家庭法律师说。

典型的想签订婚前协议的人是那些积累了大量财富、曾吃过苦头的男性,他们想减少日后的麻烦。

"他们想自己安排解决,而不想让法庭裁决," 美国婚姻法律师协会纽约分会的会长说。

保护前一次婚姻的孩子是签署婚前契约的一个重要原因。

"有人可能有价值10亿美元的财产,而他又不想让第二个配偶分得5亿美元。他可能想多留一点给自己的孩子,"一名律师说。

为了将财产传到自己的儿孙手中,六、七十岁的退休丧偶老人在找老伴时,订立婚前协议也很常见。

另一种要求签订婚前协议的情况大多是,未来的丈夫或妻子已经或即将继承巨额遗产或家庭产业,而未来伴侣却家产不多或一贫如洗。

但是,即使双方签订了这样的协议,如果不遵循正确的指导方针,还是不可能在法院实施它。

协议应当由律师起草,因为文字错误──哪怕只是介词放错了位置──也可能是灾难性的。

但婚姻法顾问警告说,永远不要选择你未来伴侣的律师来做你的律师。

另一个问题是出于压力而签订的婚前协议。

为避免这类问题,有些律师不愿在婚期已定之后起草协议。

"我认为他们的头上悬着一把剑,那就是压力,"一位律师这样说道。

这些律师会建议自己的当事人绝不要在双方签订协议之前发出结婚请柬。

但不是每个人都采纳这一建议。

律师们援引的一个经典例子是:"婚礼那天,某人──通常是女方──面前突然出现了一份协议,于是,她看都没看一眼就签了字。"

还有一位律师回想起一件尴尬事:男女双方还在修改协议,争论哪些该保留,哪些该删除,却有150名宾客陆陆续续来参加婚礼。

结果由于协议无法确定,婚礼取消了。

如果夫妇决定离婚时正住在国外,或两人拥有不同的护照,那也可能因婚前协议产生纠纷。

伦敦一家经常为分处英美两国的夫妇处理离婚事宜的律师事务所的一名律师指出,在英国,法院"基本上忽视"婚前协议,因为英国的法律认为婚姻状况不是静态的,因此应由法官来决定资产怎样分配。

这就可能导致"逛法庭"的现象,因为问题的关键在于夫妇办理离婚时所在国的法律。

他举了一个例子:"有位富有的艾德·史密斯先生和史密斯夫人结了婚,而且在纽约签订了婚前契约。

可他们住在英国,后来他们决定离婚。

英国律师会对史密斯夫人说'不行,那个契约无效。'而史密斯先生却想把它当作一桩美国案例来处理。

案子将在何处受理,这可能大大增加达成协议所需的时间。"

这些律师认为,婚前契约是一个商业协议,浪漫的爱情与此过程无关。

他们的理由是:在美国,50%的婚姻最终将被扔进垃圾堆。

另外,有关婚前协议的讨论将使两个人的钱财完全公开化,有时这可以使一对夫妇避免一桩可怕的婚姻。

一个律师说:"它使人们看清一些问题,而这些问题日后可能扩大,并导致离婚。"

然而希望还是有的。

这位律师接着说:"很多人一签好协议,就把它扔进抽屉,然后再也不看它一眼。"

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