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History of Prenuptial Agreements

Today, we hear of celebrities marrying and all we talk about is the prenuptial agreement that they may have signed prior to marriage. While many may think that prenuptial agreements are quite new, it has actually been existing in some way or form for a very long time.

The history of prenuptial agreements is long and storied, and it has evolved throughout the years to adapt to our ever changing society. Acceptance of the legality of these documents have also occurred slowly in different countries, with varying policies and regulations that help implementation of these contracts.

This article will discuss the evolution of prenuptial agreements as we know it, from its humble origins, to how it changed and was accepted over the years.

What is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement as we know it now is a document that agreed upon by two parties who intend to marry. In some countries such as Australia, this applies even for those who are living together, called de facto relationships, as well as for same sex couples.

In fact, prenups are only a category of a much broader term in Australia, as it is more commonly known in the country as a binding financial agreement which can be done either before, during, or after a marriage or de facto relationship.

Regardless, prenups in the United States and in Australia do not differ much in content as both documents would indicate the following information:

  • Full disclosure of all assets and properties
  • Financial responsibilities of both parties during the relationship
  • Sharing of assets or properties acquired during the relationship
  • Sharing of assets or properties should the relationship end
  • Sharing and ownership of liabilities and debts
  • Special clauses that would change sharing and debt in the event of specific situations

All prenups and binding financial agreements must adhere to policies set by the government in order to be valid. Any technicalities may result in the agreement being voided or set aside.

The First Prenuptial Agreements

While prenuptial agreements may seem relatively new to some, it is actually quite an old practice. The earliest versions of prenups were discovered over two thousand years ago, and these were to ensure that women, who were not allowed to own property, would not be left homeless after the death or separation from a spouse.

Hebrews also used the ketubah over 2,000 years ago. This document not only identifies that assets and properties that both parties would be bringing into the relationship, but it also lists down the responsibilities of the man such as providing the woman with food, clothing, and sex.

Ketubahs are also notable due to the fact this document is actually read aloud during the marriage ceremony. This document can also be used by a woman that intends to leave her husband if it can be proven that his responsibilities are not being met.

In Europe, on the other hand, prenups have been done as early as the 15th century. These are used mainly by the nobility especially to protect women’s property in the event of separation. Of course, other terms that protect the husband’s rights may also be included in the document.

Prenuptial Agreements History in the United States

Prenuptial agreements in the United States started in 1983 with the passing of the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, or the UPAA. This is to promote uniformity with regard to the guidelines for those couples who were married in one state but are seeking divorce in another.

However, laws regarding prenups still vary from state to state. Some of these technicalities, however, are quite trivial and will not affect a regular drawn up agreement. However, it is still important for your lawyer to know what these variations are, which may determine as to where you would like to specifically file for divorce.

Other provisions that vary from state to state will be the lapsing of prenuptial agreements. This can range from a number of years to the birth of a child during the course of the marriage, such as in the state of Maine. As of now, about half of the United States have signed on the UPAA.

Prenuptial Agreements History in Australia

Prenuptial agreements, or binding financial agreements as it is known in the country, is valid under the Family Law Act of 1975, specifically under the Reform Act Part VIIIA. Under this agreement, both parties can agree on the distribution of assets and property upon dissolution of the marriage, as well as terms regarding spousal or child support.

The Family Act also gives the binding financial agreement power of the Family Court when it comes to division of property and assets. Of course, the documents must adhere to strict guidelines before the can be deemed valid. Some of these guidelines include:

  • The agreement must be in writing
  • The agreement must be in full disclosure
  • Neither party must sign the document under duress
  • The document must be reviewed by lawyers of the respective parties
  • Both parties are duly informed of the pros and cons of the agreement
  • The document must be signed with no intent of fraud

Currently, statistics show that only six percent of married couples in Australia have signed a prenuptial agreement.


While some countries have not yet adopted prenuptial agreements into their current laws and culture, they are most likely to do so in the future due to the rising divorce rates. As these types of arrangements have been done for centuries and even millennia, there’s no denying that prenuptial agreements have a certain worth.

This is especially important not only for stay at home mothers or wives with no means to support themselves, but also for spouses that have large assets and properties that they have brought into the marriage and would like to retain the majority of it after the dissolution of the marriage.

While prenuptial agreements around the world have evolved throughout the years, their purpose and intent have remained the same – to provide protection and assurance to people so that, even after a relationship has ended, they will have enough, at least financially, to move on and get on with their lives.

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