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My fiance is not a "Russian bride"; she's a real girl I've been dating for a year, we love each other, and want to get married.

If we marry in Russia, do I need a pre-nup?

If we later on get a foreign spouse visa to enter America, will that mean I should have an American pre-nup too?

Or do I just have to have an American and Russian (translated) pre-nup in both countries no matter what?

Thanks!

  • General rule of thumb: if you're getting married, you always need a pre-nup. Protect yourself first and foremost. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jan 25 at 16:24
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Choice of Law

The place where you get married is irrelevant to the question of whether or not you need a pre-nuptial agreement. What matters is where you intend to live once you get married.

A pre-nuptial agreement exists to change the default rules of law upon death and divorce. These rules differ from state to state, so the default rules you might modify depend upon where you intend to live after you get married, and so does the extent to which you need to modify those rules.

Generally, a divorce will be governed by the law of the place where the couple resides when the divorce is commenced, and generally inheritance is governed by the laws of the place where the decedent (i.e. the dead person) was domiciled (which means something close to, but not the same as where the decedent resided) at death.

Why Get A Pre-Nuptial Agreement?

If you and your bride are happy with the default rules of law regarding divorce and inheritance in the place that you intend to live, there is no need for a pre-nuptial agreement.

If the two of you are not content with the default rules of law regarding divorce and inheritance in the place that you intend to live, then a pre-nuptial agreement can change some, but not all, of those rules.

Generally, a pre-nuptial agreement can change rules regarding property division, alimony and attorneys' fees, but not matters related to children or related to the grounds upon which you can get divorced or related to whether fault can be considered in a property division or alimony determination.

What the pre-nuptial agreement would say would depend upon your objectives for entering into it. To answer your question it is necessary to know "what harm are you afraid of that a pre-nuptial agreement could prevent?" This has more to do with your expectations and values than it does with the law.

Some reasons that people enter into pre-nuptial agreements include:

  • preventing a spouse from inheriting or receiving in a divorce wealth that you inherited or might inherit in the future, because the donors might decide not to leave you inheritances otherwise;

  • preserving wealth acquired by the spouse's respectively during life for one's adult children in a late in life marriage (e.g. during retirement) that is unlikely to produce more children.

The Formalities

Any pre-nuptial agreement should be drafted with both spouses represented by lawyers, and any competent lawyer should know the details of executing the document that are necessary to make it valid. If the agreement is drafted in English, which would make sense if she was moving to the U.S. to join you, she would need to have an interpreter in addition to a lawyer to help her evaluate and negotiate it, unless she was already fully fluent in English enough to understand advanced legal concepts (which would be very uncommon unless, for example, she went to school for many years in the U.S.).

Immigration Considerations

In the immigration process, U.S. immigration officials are skeptical that international marriages are legitimate and have the power to determine that an international marriage was a sham.

One factor among many that immigration officials use to determine that a marriage was a sham entered into for immigration purposes is the existence of a pre-nuptial agreement that favors the citizen spouse. The more strongly the agreement favors the citizen spouse relative to the default rules of law, the more likely it is that immigration officials will determine that the marriage is a sham. It is not necessarily a factor that will cause the marriage to be found to be a sham, in and of itself, but it is an important factor that would be considered.

If you enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, you are making it harder for your bride to become a U.S. citizen, and the more it favors you, the harder it will be for her to become a U.S. citizen.

  • @solrac Notwithstanding ohwilleke's enlightening answer (+1), I strongly recommend getting a prenup agreement even if the laws of your prospective jurisdiction are in line with your expectations and values. Courts (at least in Michigan) change their so-called interpretation of the legislature, and they release inconsistent case law (i.e., rulings and opinions). A prenup agreement somewhat hedges you against the inconsistency or arbitrariness with which a judge or appellate panel allegedly "interprets" the law. Moreover, any couple is likely to move to other different states over the years. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 26 '18 at 11:30

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