A Brief History of the Premarital Agreement
A premarital agreement is a relatively new concept in its current form — a means of determining the distribution of a couple’s assets in the event of death or divorce — but it is not an entirely new concept. There are a number of examples of premarital agreements throughout history — from ancient civilizations to the present — across cultures, religions and the world’s continents.
The rights of women in ancient Egypt 3,000 years agoThe first documented premarital agreements are seen in the study of ancient Egypt. Women were permitted to work for pay, to own, buy and sell property and to inherit wealth. Couples negotiated premarital agreements that guaranteed the wife her share of riches in the event of death or divorce. Egyptian women were also permitted to initiate divorce.
The Jewish Ketubah, still a standard after 2,000 yearsThe ancient Hebrew Tribes developed the Ketubah -- marriage contract -- a version of which is still utilized in Jewish weddings today. The Ketubah guarantees that the husband provides financial support for the wife in the event of divorce. The Ketubah was among the first marriage documents known to give legal and financial rights to all women, not just those of means.
Marriage contracts of Old Ireland circa 700 ADIn old Ireland there were at least three types of marriage arrangement -- one in which the wife provided the bulk of the resources, one in which the man provided, and one in which they both contributed to the family's wealth. Historians believe that if the couple divorced, both parties left with whatever they brought to the marriage. There was no such concept as marital property.
Modern times, modern agreementsA premarital agreement was once standard fare in second and third marriages, as partners primarily desired to protect the financial interests of their children from a previous partner. Over the last few decades -- as courts have come to recognize the value of an agreement -- many couples see the wisdom in spelling out what belongs to whom in the event of death or divorce. While some might see the popularity of premarital agreements as a reflection of the current divorce culture, history tells us this may not be the case after all.