Sunset Clause in a Marriage

Dec 16, 2020 | Prenuptial Agreements

Wait… what?! You can add a sunset clause to your marriage? Well, not really. Let us explain.

The fact of the matter is that prenuptial agreements are on the up and up, especially amongst the millennial population (Source: Business Insider). With that being said, you probably have heard about them more frequently in casual conversation, and may have questions regarding just what they are, and what exactly they do. Luckily, you’ve come to the right spot to learn a bit more about the ins and outs of what makes a prenuptial agreement what it is, cultural judgements and all! Colloquially known as prenups, you’ve likely heard of the more extreme versions of these legal documents frequently implemented by celebrities. However, as the age that individuals are getting married trends upwards, we are seeing people having the desire to protect their assets, and potentially shield themselves from having to acquire debt from their significant other. While it’s essential to begin to diminish the variety of stigmas that exist around prenups, let HelloPrenup, the premier site for developing your prenup completely online, shed some light on just what you can and cannot achieve with a prenup, including adding a sunset clause.

So, we are going to dig into sunset clauses – and yes, they are beautiful, but no, they aren’t as vibrant as a real sunset. Is this a sunset clause on your marriage? No! Sunset clauses cover the idea of whether or not you will allow your prenup to expire at a certain point in your marriage. So – do prenups expire or not? Well, there isn’t necessarily a direct answer to that question. In general, your standard prenup does not expire, so the response is typically a big fat “no.” However, there are certain clauses that you can decide to include in your prenup that can in fact set a sort of expiration date on the document. Of course, this option is only viable as long as your spouse agrees to the conditions.  By the way, instead of dealing with costly back-and-forth between attorneys, HelloPrenup offers a less costly and effective ways to spot the differences between what you and your future spouse are both looking for in a prenup agreement. Not only can this “Issue Identification” process spot inconsistencies seamlessly, but an additional Discussion & Issue Resolution step prioritizes communication as the main tool to resolve these sorts of inconsistencies. After all, isn’t communication key in almost every aspect of a healthy relationship?

Now, back to the clause that can effectively set an expiration date on your prenup- a sunset clause- but first, let’s get started with what exactly a clause is. A clause, or provision, is in other words just a particular section of a legal doctrine that adheres to a specific point. You could have a clause in your prenup about how you’ll handle one spouse’s student loan debt in case of a divorce, or where your inheritance from your grandmother will go. A clause that establishes an expiration date for a prenup, or as it known, a “sunset clause”, basically just identifies a time in which the prenup will no longer be valid. It could be 5, 7, 10, or 20 years from your initial marriage date, or literally any time after your initial wedding date that you wish to set. It could be a specific date, or as previously mentioned, a specific number of years after your wedding. But, if you are going to all of the trouble to speak to your spouse about a prenup, and then actually have that agreement drafted, why bother setting an expiration date on it? Well, depending on whether you are the more or less “well-off” spouse in the marriage, there are a myriad of reasons that a sunset clause may prove to be beneficial to your marriage.

Generally, the idea behind a sunset clause is that after a certain amount of time spent married, a couple will feel that they either will truly be in it “til death do us part”, or are hopeful that they can arrive at a point where they can settle the terms of divorce in a respectful manner. Of course, emotions tend to run high in the midst of divorce, so this second idea is rather optimistic, but this can serve as a critical reassurance in the success of a relationship for some.

For the spouse who may be coming into the marriage with more debt or fewer assets, a sunset clause could be a positive thing for financial and emotional wellbeing. You see, without a prenup, the shared assets of a marriage are split up depending on the divorce laws that rule over your state, or rather, the state that your divore takes place in. Most states practice either equitable distribution or community property when it comes to divorce proceedings. In an equitable distribution state, which 41 of the 50 states operate under, assets are divided “equitably”, but not necessarily equally. Community property on the other hand, theoretically enables a half and half split down all community assets of a marriage. This tactic focuses much more on ensuring assets are equally distributed between the two divorcing parties. Again, because there are many nuances within each state’s specific divorce laws, you should contact an attorney in your state if you have questions about the above.

It is of the essence to note though that sunset clauses do not always constitute a concrete setting of an expiration date. Rather, certain sunset clauses are developed with the intention to be phased out over time. For example, in some circumstances the spouse with fewer assets may receive a certain amount of money for each year that a marriage lasts. This tactic can last until a certain decided-upon date, when the prenup will in fact actually expire.

The History of Sunset Clauses

Okay, time for a brief history lesson! No, sunset clauses in a marriage, or sometimes called sunset provisions, are not only used in prenups. On the contrary, the concept goes back to Roman times, and is even cited in the writings of one of the greatest philosophers of all time – there’s a planet AND a Disney character named for him – Pluto. Most often, sunset provisions were implemented in the case of emergency legislation. However, this pretty much came to a close once Julius Casear became dictator (et tu, Brute?). Even these days, you can find the style of sunset provisions cropping up in emergency legislation. Seriously, just look at this year’s stimulus bill in response to COVID. Remember the extra $600 per week that unemployed individuals were receiving? Indeed, it expired at the end of July this year. Even this year’s forbearance of federal student loan payments is set to expire on December 31, 2020. Though it’s unfortunate that these programs were so short-lived, they all do employ the use of expiration dates, or sunset provisions.

You can even think all of the way back to the Alien and Seditions Acts that you assuredly learned about in high school US History class. Do these ring a bell? Back in the late 1700s, these laws gave the government greater power to deport immigrants, while at the same time making it harder for immigrants to be able to vote – voter suppression – sounds a tads familiar, doesn’t it?!  These acts, which were highly controversial and potentially infringed on first amendment rights to freedom of speech, were written in 1798 to expire two years after their passing, or once the election of 1800 had passed.

Is A Sunset Clause The Right Choice For You?

Now that you have the 411 on just what a sunset clause may or may not be able to do for your individual situation, is it a good idea to write one into your prenup? Of course, we can’t answer that, but HelloPrenup can help you work towards your collective goals as a couple when it comes to what you should include in your prenup. With HelloPrenup, you’ll not only save money, but loads of potential emotional turmoil in the future.

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