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Prenuptial Agreements: Thousands of Years of History

Property agreements between engaged couples are nothing new. People have been making prenuptial agreements for thousands of years.

Soon after the Prophet Mohammad’s death, his great-granddaughter, Sukayna, who was married several times, at least once stipulated in writing that her husband was forbidden to disagree with her about anything.

The Hebrew marriage contract, called the ketubah, is at least 2,000 years old. This contract was intended to protect women in case of divorce or widowhood by setting out the husband’s financial obligation to the wife. This agreement also made it expensive for a husband to divorce his wife and so made marriages more stable.

Dowries, often considered to be early prenuptial agreements, were mentioned in seventh century writings as a necessity.

By the ninth century, in Europe, husbands were required to secure one-third of their property to their wives on their deaths as dower rights. Under English common law and in colonial America, “dower” was the share of a deceased husband’s real estate to which his widow was entitled after his death.

Wives sometimes brought dowries of money or land to the marriage. These arrangements were covered in an agreement drawn up before the marriage.

In fifteenth century England, Edward IV reportedly had a prenuptial agreement with Eleanor Butler sometime between 1461 and 1464.

Up until the 19th century in the United States, married women could not own property. This began to change when New York State passed the Married Women’s Property Act of 1848. Before then, women needed marriage contracts to guarantee them property in case of divorce or the husband’s death.

Marriage as an economic vehicle

Historically, before the advent of modern “romance,” parents of the bride and groom negotiated a financial agreement on the new couple’s behalf as marriage was often exclusively used as a means of distributing wealth and inheritance, making marriage choice more about the exchange of economic capital, and less about romantic love…

Read more: Miami Family Lawyers

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