The Kardashian family isn’t often held up as a positive example for teaching life lessons. However, in the wake of recent divorce rumors between Khloe Kardashian, the youngest of the three Kardashian sisters, and Lamar Odom, a former Lakers and Clippers player, the benefits of a rising trend in American marriages have been brought to light. This trend is the prenup.
Prenuptial agreements are legally binding contracts that spell out how a couple’s assets and finances will be divided if and, in many cases, when the marriage fails. Because Khloe and Lamar chose to sign a prenup before their marriage in 2009, they now have the option of a relatively simple and speedy divorce process. In terms of practicality, this “clean break” scenario is ideal in a world where the average marriage has only about a 50% chance of survival. However, the Evangelical Christian view of marriage demands a critical look at the moral side of prenups.
Prenups have long been standard practice among America’s wealthy elite, but only recently has the trend increased in the upper-middle class, where many of America’s Evangelicals reside. One of the primary arguments against prenups, from Christians and non-Christians alike, is that by outlining the terms of a divorce, one is essentially expecting divorce, and in turn, dooming one’s marriage before it even begins.
Ideally, every couple could expect their marriage to last, but according to a study from Utah State University, 40-50% of all first marriages will end in divorce. Some might argue that Christian marriages have a higher success rate, which is true, if only barely true. According to research completed by the Barna Group, 33% of all Americans who have been married and 26% of all Evangelicals who have been married have also been divorced. So it is certainly fair to say that divorce is a very real possibility, even in Evangelical Christian marriages.
Practically speaking, because divorce is a potential outcome, wouldn’t it be prudent for couples to be prepared if that worst-case scenario were to occur? After all, prenups can make an already difficult separation process much easier, shorter, and free of additional conflict. They promote fairness and equity by ensuring that each party is given just treatment. Prenups can even empower those who might otherwise find themselves struggling financially after a divorce. For example, stay-at-home moms can be assigned monetary values for their non-income-earning occupation, thus, protecting parents who may have sacrificed their own careers to care for their family. In addition, prenups force couples to commit to full disclosure of their financial situations from the get-go. This initial honesty can save couples from finance-related stress and conflict later down the road.
All the aforementioned reasons offer a compelling argument as to why seeking a prenuptial agreement might be wise for a couple. In fact, some of the benefits are inherently Biblical concepts – justice, truthfulness, protecting the weak. However, one must also consider prenups in light of the Biblical definition of marriage. Marriage is between “one man and one woman,” but according to the Barna study, “many young people are moving toward embracing the idea of serial marriage, in which a person gets married two or three times, seeking a different partner for each phase of their adult life.” Does the option of prenups encourage this kind of thinking by offering an easy out, a quick fix?
Prenups, by definition, are contractual, while marriage, by definition, is covenantal. Marriage is more than a legal agreement; it is the binding of two bodies and souls in the fullest form of human relationship. In his blog, Dr. Russell Moore says that, “A prenuptial agreement in a Christian marriage makes about as much sense as a legal contract between one’s mouth and one’s stomach, in case of a refusal to provide nutrients.” Ephesians 5:29 tells us that “No man hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”
While Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom are likely very grateful for their prenup at this point, they are in stark contrast to Khloe’s parents, Kris and Bruce Jenner, who recently announced their separation. The Jenners, who have been married for over 20 years, never had a prenup, and, should they divorce, are consequently looking at a very complicated battle over their combined net worth of $125 million. While neither situation is desirable, isn’t the Jenners’ more reflective of the messy consequences of broken relationship?
Marriage is a covenant promise – when one enters into that covenant, especially as a Christian, should there be a quick fix for when things get hard? In financial terms, prenups do just that. They disentangle one partner from the other as if their resources and interests were never aligned in the first place. In the words of marriage therapist and scholar William H. Doherty, “Marriage is a counter-cultural act in a throwaway society.” Christian couples considering a prenuptial agreement may want to ask themselves if that contract is allowing them to rationalize the possibility of “throwing away” their marriage, one of God’s most precious gifts to humanity.