Family Professionals help couples communicate values and goals for a marriage contract

Many couples struggle to identify and express their relationship goals or articulate their fears while they are also trying to anticipate a joyful life together, which is very understandable. Talking about separation while also planning a wedding is a difficult line to walk, but for many couples, this can be incredibly helpful, especially when they have the help of a collaborative family professional.

Why would someone want a marriage contract in the first place?

There are a number of reasons that someone may want a marriage contract, but the most common ones are because one, or both, individuals had a previous difficult divorce; they are blending two families (so there are other people/situations to consider, outside of the marriage); or the couple has widely disparate financial circumstances and attitudes.

Marriage contracts are used to create or reinforce the couple’s expectations of each other in their relationship. Many people may be more familiar with the term “pre-nup”, but in Canada, a prenuptial agreement is called a marriage contract and if the process in creating one goes well, it can actually help a couple address their fears and enter into their marriage confidently.

Collaborative Practice in Action

Collaborative professionals are trained and committed to peacefully working together towards a resolution, which lends itself well to crafting a marriage contract. Because the collaborative process is transparent and both parties actively participate, their goals and worries are jointly addressed. Legal professionals assist with creating the document itself, but Collaborative Practice can also involve a family professional, someone who is trained to guide a couple through the process from an emotional, psychological, and relational perspective.

The Collaborative family professional can help the parties comfortably and safely share their worries and communicate their hopes so that the marriage contract truly reflects their commitments to each other and respects their unique circumstances. Crafting a marriage contract starts to go wrong when the time is rushed, both voices aren’t heard (or outside voices, like family members, are heard a little too much), or when the contract is presented as a fait accompli and someone feels they have no choice but to sign on the dotted line.

A successful marriage contract will leave the parties feeling respected and understood and the fears that the contract is intended to mitigate will have diminished. 

Collaborative marriage contracts can offer clarity

It’s natural to wonder whether the process of creating a marriage contract will be uncomfortable or awkward. What I’ve found is that couples who struggle to navigate this awkwardness will struggle in other areas of their relationship, or maybe already are. Family professionals can provide a lot of support in this scenario and can help the couple to understand their preferences and find ways to comfortably express those. Practically speaking, family professionals use lots of questions to help parties understand each other — we specialize in helping people navigate awkward conversations!

Starting from a solid foundation

Here’s an example of how Collaborative Practice can serve someone seeking a marriage contract:  

Two individuals came to me because the marriage contract that had been drafted for them did not reflect their relationship or their future goals. I was able to help them create a statement of their goals, which they shared with lawyers, and eventually used to amend their marriage contract. Before our conversations, the couple had not been able to get past the awkwardness of planning for separation while also starting to build their family. It took two thoughtful discussions, but they were pleased with the goals they had created together, they felt reassured, and their hopes for their future family were stronger because of the process.

Creating a marriage contract doesn’t need to feel cold or impersonal. When a Collaborative family professional is involved, couples can use the process as an opportunity to talk about their hopes, dreams, and goals for their family together. These discussions can actually solidify a foundation for a couple’s future.

Caroline Felstiner, MSW, RSW, AccFM is a registered social worker and accredited family mediator. She completed her MSW at the University of Toronto in 2001. Caroline became a family mediator in 2011 and collaborative professional in 2014 with the aim of helping parents and their children transition through separation without the destruction of a fraught battle. Caroline’s goal is to ensure clients have realistic and comprehensive roadmaps for their lives.

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