In contemporary times, prenuptials seem to be almost as common as vows. Before you walk down the aisle and say, “I do,” you first have to sign here, here, and here.
Contracts are not a new element of marriages. The act of getting married is, itself, a legally binding contract — provided it meets the requirements of the state or country in which the ceremony takes place. For example, according to New York City Bar, in New York, as in many other jurisdictions, “If either of you are still legally married to a former spouse, or do not meet the age requirements, then you are not legally married.”
Throughout history, marriage contracts have been negotiated between rich and influential families, with papers signed outlining the gains and losses of each party in the union — such as dowries payed and lands redistributed. To this day, you need to obtain a license to have a marriage legally recognized.
Today, a growing number of engaged couples wanting to avoid upset in any potential future dispute sign a formal prenuptial agreement — a private contract that both parties agree would be a fair way to split their combined assets.
It outlines dos and don’ts, haves and have nots, should the couple choose to split up in the future. They’re an increasingly popular element of a marriage, especially in the celebrity realm.
In some cases, postnuptial agreements come into play. These are agreements in which the couple draws up a contract after they are married, outlining certain requirements for the continuation and betterment of their union.
History provides an unfortunate example of a celebrity postnup that only served to make matters worse: it was written by Albert Einstein to his first wife, Mileva Marić. Einstein met Marić in 1896 at the Zurich Polytechnic, Eidgenossische Technische Hoschule, when she was studying for a teaching diploma in mathematics and physics. FemBio notes that Marić was the “second woman to finish a full program of study at Department VI A: Mathematics and Physics.”
Over the years, the friendship founded through their shared work interests developed and eventually lead to marriage in January 1903.
Their union was blessed with two sons, Hans and Eduard; but speculation exists, based on letters sent to each other, about a first child, born out of wedlock the year before the couple was married. Her fate is unconfirmed.
After 11 years of matrimony, though, the couple agreed that there was no longer any romance between them. Einstein and his wife agreed to approach the subject logically. They didn’t want to divorce recklessly, so for the sake of their children’s continuity, they decided to stay together.
According to Walter Isaacson in his book Einstein: His Life and Universe, the scientist had some conditions, which he outlined in the following list:
- “You will make sure:
- that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
- that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
- that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.”
- “You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:
- my sitting at home with you;
- my going out or travelling with you.”
- “You will obey the following points in your relations with me:
- you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
- you will stop talking to me if I request it;
- you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.”
- “You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.”
Concise and direct, the list drives a hard bargain. It sounds particularly harsh considering it was issued from a husband to his wife. Mileva agreed to his conditions anyway.
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Logic can’t dictate such a strong emotion as love, or lack thereof. A few months went by before Mileva changed her mind. Taking their two sons, she left her husband in Berlin and moved back to Zurich. They officially divorced five years later, having not seen each other all that time.
He may have been able to calculate the amount of energy contained in a given mass, but Einstein couldn’t write the perfect formula for maintaining a marriage.
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