March 23, 2012
New York Times
By LOUISE RAFKIN
WHEN Ellen DeGeneres married Portia de Rossi in 2008, people wanted to know two things: What did they wear? And was there a prenup?
Regarding the first question, the couple wore Zac Posen.
The second question — Ms. DeGeneres’s representatives did not respond when asked if she had a prenup or not — has become important for many other same-sex couples, who have discovered that all the new opportunities to marry are accompanied by a gloomy companion that hangs silently over every prospective newlywed: the possibility of divorce.
“The old adage ‘with rights come responsibilities’ comes to mind,” said Frederick Hertz, an Oakland, Calif., lawyer and an author of “Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership & Civil Unions” (Nolo Press, 2009).
Having mediated ugly same-sex breakups, both for those legally married and in domestic partnerships, Mr. Hertz is a staunch advocate of the prenuptial contract; he has worked on more than 100 in the last five years. Yet Mr. Hertz’s unscientific guess is that less than 20 percent of same-sex couples talk to lawyers before reciting vows.
Lisa Padilla, 49, a Manhattan lawyer, and Allison Drew Klein, 55, a sales representative for Pitney Bowes, met during Rosh Hashana at their synagogue in 2010. In a matter of weeks, they formed a strong bond.
For both women, previous long-term relationships had ended badly, and in Ms. Padilla’s case, the problems involved finances. Ms. Padilla, who owns her own law firm, said she made far more than her previous partner and paid for most of the couple’s expenses.
After a giddy three months of dating, Ms. Padilla and Ms. Klein moved in together. They had been sharing costs equally, so when Ms. Padilla broached the subject of a prenuptial agreement, Ms. Klein was taken aback.
“It was unsettling, and took some of the romance away, “ she said. “I read Lisa’s insistence for a prenup as a lack of trust.”
Both women had considerable assets, including apartments and investments. “I really wanted the assurance that if we were making a mistake, we could extricate ourselves easily,” Ms. Padilla said.
Ms. Klein thought the issue was moot. After all, this was supposed to last forever.
For months, the question languished and the prenuptial document that Ms. Padilla had drafted lay untouched.
Both women hired lawyers, and the process was nerve-racking, more so — curiously — for Ms. Padilla. “I was skip-happy in love, but scared, too,” she said. “I could see how the opportunities for misinterpretation abounded — both between the two of us and among our friends.”
“We were looking ahead,” she added, “but we didn’t have anything on paper.”
Eventually, Ms. Klein agreed to sign.
“In my opinion, Lisa had been taken advantage of in other relationships,” she said. “I wanted her to be able to feel safe in this one.”
The women were married in Manhattan last December. “For the first time, I feel like I’m with an equal partner,” Ms. Padilla said. “My primary purpose with the prenup was to take finances off the table and engage in the relationship with our hearts.”
Michele Kahn, the lawyer who represented Ms. Klein, strongly advises those thinking about marriage to grasp all the ramifications, saying, “During breakups, it’s everyone for themselves.”
She says most often it is not the cost of the agreement ($2,000 to $5,000) that short-circuits the process, but the complicated questions that can arise over, say, alimony; compensation for a stay-at-home parent; and retirement accounts, which for same-sex couples cannot be divided without penalties and tax consequences.
Same-sex marriages are not federally recognized, which can make things messier, especially if a couple moves to a state that does not acknowledge their union. “If the second state follows the rules of the first it probably will be binding, but some states have looser standards and if it’s not written according to those looser standards, it might not be binding,” Mr. Hertz said.
Prenuptial agreements were originally established to protect family wealth. That notion is sometimes cloudy in same-sex relationships.
“In the gay community there is a lot of socializing among people with large discrepancies in both income and family wealth,” said Jooske Stil, a marriage and family therapist in Oakland. “Romance often blooms before there’s full disclosure about economic backgrounds and family inheritances.”
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