Whether you call it a prenup, a premarital agreement or an antemarital agreement, it means the same thing: a contract setting out what happens if and when you and your spouse divorce. You enter this agreement after you are engaged and before you are married, so the timing couldn't be worse, since contemplating divorce before you even say "I do" complicates the joy of new love. Yet, if you decide to have a prenuptial agreement, you should start months before your wedding day.

Prenups Protect Property

You don't have to sign a prenuptial agreement to get married, and most couples don't, but you should consider it early. If you later divorce, the laws of your state will determine who gets what part of the marital property. Property you consider yours -- like what you owned before marriage -- could be divided with your spouse, or even used to pay off his separate debts, depending on how you have treated that property during the marriage and what state you live in. A prenuptial agreement replaces the state laws that govern the division of marital property in a divorce with your own agreement about who gets what if the marriage ends.

Downsides of Prenups

Prenuptial agreements can be useful and wise to have, but they have several downsides. First, no engaged couple with stars in their eyes wants to contemplate divorce. And the act of negotiating a business agreement about property division in the event of a divorce can bring out a different side of your betrothed that you may not enjoy seeing. Second, each person should use a separate attorney when drafting a prenuptial agreement, which can mean big bucks. Still, many couples decide it's worth it to be secure about the future, according to family law attorney Lee Borden.

Drafting a Prenuptial Agreement

The process of writing up a prenuptial agreement is not a simple one. The terms depend on an understanding of the property division laws in your state, how your property would be treated under those laws, and how each party wants the property to be treated. It is adversarial in the sense that your interests are often directly opposed to those of your spouse-to-be. Nolo Press experts advise it's best to bring in your own attorney when negotiating the terms of a prenup so your interests are protected.

Prenup Timing

You should not wait until the week before you marry to start drafting a prenup. Divorce attorney David Centeno advises that it's best to finalize a premarital agreement at least one to three months before the wedding date. The negotiation time varies depending on the complexity of your property holdings, but can easily take several months. Although some couples sign the agreement the night before the wedding, you are better off having the prenup ready for signature a full month before the wedding day to avoid allegations of coercion in the event of a divorce down the line.