Women control 83 percent of the spending in American households, LearnVest founder Alexis von Tobel pointed out last night in a conversation with Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Manhattan, and they hold 60 percent of the country's overall wealth. They're also starting business more than ever before — women now own 30 percent of small businesses, and the the number of women-owned businesses has increased 44 percent since 1997. But while women have more financial power than ever, that also means they have more to lose.
Von Tobel is getting married this year. When the topic of prenups came up, she said she's not getting one, since she and her fiancé make roughly the same amount of money. But, she said, for couples with wide financial disparities, prenups can be a great idea. And Coles pointed out that increasingly, the partner making significantly more money is likely to be a woman.
Kim Kardashian's prenup made the news after her divorce from Kris Humphries, but less-famous women may also be seeking the agreements more frequently than before. In a 2010 survey, 73 percent of attorneys reported an increase in clients asking for prenups, and 52 percent saw a spike in women, specifically, seeking them. And in another survey, just released by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, almost half of divorce lawyers said they'd seen an increase in women owing alimony after a split, which a prenup can limit. Fifty-six percent of lawyers also said they were seeing more women paying child support. The latter can't be covered in a prenup, but the increase in both does indicate, according to the AAML, that women are "finding themselves increasingly responsible for financial obligations during and after the divorce process."
All this means more women than ever need advice about how to have an uncomfortable conversation, one in which they talk candidly about what will happen financially if their marriages don't work out. Von Tobel says men and women both need to remember that a prenup isn't "betting against your marriage," any more than life insurance is betting on your untimely death. Instead, she says, partners should think of it as a way to protect them both in a worst-case scenario. It's best to discuss the prospect when both parties are sober and relaxed — she recommends a Saturday afternoon when they have plenty of time. And, she cautions, even if you do it just right, talking about a prenup is going to be difficult. But the more women — and men — talk openly about money issues, the more comfortable it will be for everyone.