Prenuptial Agreements in Iowa

Find out how Iowa courts decide whether to enforce prenuptial agreements.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School

While only 1% of marrying couples had prenuptial agreements in 2002, 33% of people now say they would consider signing a prenuptial agreement before marriage. No longer just a tool for the very wealthy, prenuptial agreements are helping many average-income couples protect their assets and plan for their futures.

If you are considering getting a prenuptial agreement, you should know how they work in your state. This article explains what an Iowa prenuptial agreement can cover and how courts decide whether or not to enforce a prenuptial agreement upon divorce.

What Is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement, also known as a "premarital agreement," is a contract between two people who are getting married. The agreement determines how the couple's property will be handled during the marriage, and how it will be divided if they divorce. The agreement becomes effective upon marriage.

Who Should Get a Prenuptial Agreement?

Divorces can be lengthy and costly procedures, with both spouses attempting to secure their financial future at any expense. Often, the result is that there's much less to divide, because attorney fees and court costs eat into each partner's assets.

Marrying couples often sign prenuptial agreements to decide between themselves what their financial situation will look like in case they get divorced. Studies have shown that, instead of encouraging divorce, these agreements promote marital happiness by decreasing uncertainty about each spouse's financial future and allowing couples to focus on the emotional aspect of their relationship.

Those who enter a marriage with assets such as real property, retirement accounts, or businesses may want to use a prenuptial agreement to ensure they retain those assets if they separate from their spouse. People with children from previous relationships may also want a prenuptial agreement to protect their children's future inheritance. Many couples also want to put in writing the alimony that one spouse will receive upon divorce, especially if one spouse plans to leave a job to take care of the couple's home or children.

What Issues Can a Prenuptial Agreement Cover?

Prenuptial agreements may cover a number of different issues, including:

  • the rights each spouse has regarding property owned by either spouse
  • each spouse's ability to buy, sell, use, transfer, or otherwise dispose of or control property owned by either spouse
  • what happens to all property upon separation, divorce, death of a spouse, or some other event the couple chooses
  • whether a spouse must make a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement
  • what happens to the death benefits of any life insurance policy owned by either spouse
  • which state's law will be used to interpret the agreement, and
  • anything else the couple wants to decide within the law.

Can a Prenuptial Agreement Determine Child Custody and Child Support in Iowa?

A prenuptial agreement can never determine child support or child custody.

The right to child support belongs to the child, not the parents. A couple can't determine or eliminate a future child's right to support by contract. The parents may agree to a child support amount when they separate or divorce, but a court must ultimately approve any child support agreement, ensuring that it is sufficient to meet the child's needs at that time.

Also, courts decide child custody at the time the parents separate, based on what is in the child's best interests at that time. Because of this, parents can't decide prior to marriage what custody arrangement will be appropriate for their future children. Any attempt to decide custody in a prenuptial agreement will be thrown out by the court.

How Can I Ensure my Prenuptial Agreement Is Enforceable in Iowa?

Iowa is among the majority of states that has enacted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA), a standard set of rules governing how prenuptial agreements are enforced. Iowa prenuptial agreements must be in writing and signed by both prospective spouses. There does not need to be an exchange for the financial provisions in the agreement (except for the marriage itself). Both spouses need to sign any other documents necessary to carry out the terms of the agreement, such as trusts, wills, or life insurance policies.

Generally, both spouses should be given an opportunity to review the agreement with their own attorney. If a spouse is given the opportunity to have an attorney review the agreement and chooses not to do so, the agreement won't be thrown out later for that reason. On the other hand, a man who gave his wife a prenuptial agreement on the evening before the wedding, when she was entertaining dinner guests, and did not give her the opportunity to meet with an attorney, probably should not have been surprised when the agreement was later thrown out.

If spouses wish to change the terms of their agreement after marriage, or revoke it altogether, they must put the modification or revocation in writing and sign it.

When Will the Court Refuse to Enforce a Prenuptial Agreement?

The court will agree to throw out a prenuptial agreement against the wishes of one spouse only in limited circumstances, including the following:

  • One spouse did not sign the agreement voluntarily (signed under duress).
  • The agreement was "unconscionable" when it was signed.
  • A spouse didn't disclose their assets and debts to the other when the agreement was signed, and the other spouse didn't have, or couldn't have had, that financial information.

The court will decide that an agreement is unconscionable only if the agreement is so patently unfair that it would be an injustice to enforce it. The court will find an agreement unconscionable only in extreme circumstances; it is not enough that the agreement leaves the spouses in very different financial circumstances after marriage. The court must take both spouses' financial situations following divorce into account when deciding whether their prenuptial agreement is unenforceable due to unconscionability.

Generally, both spouses should list their assets and debts in the prenuptial agreement. Technically, a spouse can waive his or her right to receive information about the other spouse's finances, but Iowa courts are very suspicious of these agreements. The court has the discretion to invalidate a prenuptial agreement, even if it is reasonable, if the spouses waive their rights to receive each other's financial information.

Courts are also wary of prenuptial agreements that eliminate either spouse's obligation to support the other. Again, while technically legal, a couple risks the court throwing out their prenuptial agreement if the contract prohibits alimony.

If courts decide that a provision in a prenuptial agreement is unenforceable, the court can throw out that provision and enforce the rest of the agreement.

If you have additional questions about Iowa prenuptial agreements, contact an Iowa family law attorney for advice.

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