You know what they say about the cobbler’s kid? As lawyers, you know what a prenup is, but have you considered how one can help you redefine your marriage? In this episode, Stephanie talks with Aaron Thomas, author of The Prenup Prescription, about how having a prenup is the key to a healthy and happy marriage.
Bonus: Hear how Aaron completely reshaped his law firm from contested divorces to creating prenups.
Links from the episode:
The Prenup Prescription
Check out Aaron’s Prenup Website!
If today’s podcast resonates with you and you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited yet, get the first chapter right now for free!
Thanks to Posh Virtual Receptionists, NetDocuments & LawPay. for sponsoring this episode.
Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Stephanie Everett (00:35):
Hi, I’m Stephanie Everett.
Jennifer Whigham (00:36):
And I’m Jennifer Whigham. And this is episode 480 of the Lawyerist podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Stephanie talks with Aaron Thomas about Prenups.
Stephanie Everett (00:46):
Today’s podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionists, NetDocuments & LawPay. We wouldn’t be able to do our show without their support, so stay tuned because we’re going to tell you more about them later on.
Jennifer Whigham (00:57):
So Stephanie Aaron Thomas is in our Lawyerist Lab program, which is our coaching program for small firm lawyers, and he’s been in it a long time, and we’ve been able to see his trajectory, which is an amazing trajectory from where he started to where he is. And now I hear and know that he might be taking on a new type of role within Lawyerist lab.
Stephanie Everett (01:19):
Yeah, I’m super excited. We actually didn’t know this was going to happen when we recorded the show, so we didn’t talk about it. But we are super excited about everything that Aaron has done with his law firm. And as you mentioned, he has been in lab literally since day one. We have loved working with him, seeing how his firm has changed and grown in different ways since we started. And this is typically what happens too. People want to learn from him. People in lab are coming to him asking questions. There’s all this great amazing peer support that happens inside of Lab, and we’re just making it even more official because Aaron is one of our new lawyer mentors for the lab program.
Jennifer Whigham (02:04):
Awesome. And what does that mean to be a lawyer mentor? Exactly.
Stephanie Everett (02:07):
Jennifer Whigham (02:09):
Stephanie Everett (02:10):
So Aaron’s going to hold monthly office hours for our community where people can come to him in a very intentional way and ask him questions about how he’s handled different issues for his firm. He has gone really deep into marketing. He just published this book and he has been on 40 podcasts, for example. So he’s really learned a lot about digital marketing and techniques that other industries use when marketing their business. So there’s a lot that he can convey to our Labster. He’s also going to be hosting quarterly workshops, and of course he’ll be at the in-person events like Lab Con that we hold. So it’s just another level of support that we’re providing to our community.
Jennifer Whigham (02:54):
And I love it because it’s the community portion of Lawyerist Lab is my favorite, and we have all these brilliant minds and the people that have been through the program and know what it’s like to go from start to finish really are the best people to be mentors. And I think our community is going to just benefit from him so much. And he’s a great person, just a great person to talk to.
Stephanie Everett (03:14):
Absolutely. So now here’s my conversation with Aaron.
Aaron Thomas (03:22):
Hi, I’m Aaron Thomas. I am a family law attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m the founder of prenups.com.
Stephanie Everett (03:29):
Hi Aaron, welcome back to the show. You’ve been on a couple of times, and today we’re actually going to dig into prenups because not only did you, you’re the founder of prenups.com and your new book, the Prenup Prescription is out. And it occurred to me that this is actually a topic that lawyers should probably know a more about when it comes to their own personal life and how they approach finances in their relationships. Fair?
Aaron Thomas (03:57):
That is definitely fair. Yes.
Stephanie Everett (04:00):
So I think we have to just knock it out of the park and say prenups have a pretty bad reputation or sort of a dirty, maybe a, what do you want to say? A dirty name? They kind of seem like most people associate them as a recipe for divorce. What do you say to that?
Aaron Thomas (04:17):
Yeah, no, I mean, you really can’t have the conversation about prenuptial agreements without really first addressing the stigma around them. And even as a lawyer myself, when I first started practicing family law, I thought the same thing that most people probably do that prenups are just, you are basically planning your divorce before you get married. In fact, even some attorneys describe them as that. And it basically took practicing family law for a number of years for me to realize that there is so much more to prenups than just planning your divorce or protecting what you have coming in. And if all your prenup does is plan your divorce, then maybe some of the bad reputation is deserved. I think that prenups should be looked at as essentially a partnership agreement for your marriage. So just like in a business partnership, any business partnership agreement worth the paper that is written on is going to spell out what happens if somebody leaves the partnership.
If one of the owners decides to leave the partnership voluntarily or passes away, of course you need to have contingency plans in place, let’s say what happens. But that’s not the purpose of the partnership agreement. The partnership agreement’s purpose is to make sure that things run smoothly during the pendency of the business. And a good prenup should do essentially the same thing. It should make sure that things run smoothly during the pendency of your marriage. And yes, also in the event that you split up, you don’t give 20% of your net worth to divorce lawyers to fight over who gets the other 80%.
Stephanie Everett (05:55):
Yeah. I love the idea of your framing around the business partnership because that really resonates. I know why we have a business partnership, but it might not be clear, at least it’s not clear to me. What do you mean when you say you’re going to use this to manage the marriage or the financial relationship that you’re entering into? Can you say some more about that?
Aaron Thomas (06:16):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So when I look at a good prenuptial agreement, I split it up into kind of three parts. So you’ve got before the marriage and the principle that I use that I talk about in the prenup prescription, my book is transparency. And so for a prenup to be enforceable, and this is true in all 50 states, both spouses have to disclose all of their assets and debts to each other in writing. And the way that we accomplish this is we literally have each spouse write out a net worth statement and we attach it to the back of the agreement, all of their assets and all their liabilities. And for some couples, this is the first time that they’ve ever gotten this transparent, this granular with sharing their finances with each other. It is not something that typically comes up on the first date and it just becomes, momentum takes over and it becomes very easy to be one year, two years into a relationship or even married and you don’t know what the other person’s assets are, you don’t know how much debt they’ve got.
So just kind of putting everything out there on the table at the beginning of your marriage can work wonders for the relationship because there’s no secrets. You’re going in with your eyes open and everything on the table. And then step two of getting a prenup is around the idea of communication, making sure that things run smoothly during the relationship itself. So for example, the first thing that couples should really think about is how are they going to set up their bank accounts? Our parents’ generation, they probably had one bank account and everything went into and came out of that one bank account and somebody managed the checkbook. Maybe that worked fine in the sixties and seventies when people’s finances were very simple and everyone got married at age 20. But the average couple today gets married closer to age 30, sometimes beyond that. And that average couple is likely to have met multiple bank accounts, multiple credit cards, maybe a couple of retirement accounts, a vehicle, potentially some equity in a home or a condo.
And on top of all of that, maybe a decade’s worth of financial habits that they have built up over the course of time that they’ve been living separately from their parents. And so combining that is not just as simple as throwing everything into one bank account. And so typically what we recommend is that couples have three money buckets or three buckets of money. We’ve got mine, yours and ours. And some people will do what I call the outside end plan where all of their income goes into their separate bank accounts like it did before they got married, and then they each contribute to the joint bank account that is used to pay for truly joint expenses. Sometimes couples will contribute to that, a joint bank account, 50 50. Sometimes they’ll do that rata with their incomes, but the idea is they have some agreed upon way that they pay for their joint expenses and only the joint expenses come out of the joint bank account.
So mortgage, utilities, groceries, meals, a couple eats out together, their Netflix, their Hulu, maybe their joint travel, that kind of thing. And then each spouse maintains some kind of money. Some people will call it an allowance in their separate bank accounts to do their kind of discretionary spending. And so that’s called the outside in. Other people use the inside out plan where all of the income in the household goes into the joint bank account, and then each spouse gives that allowance or allotment that goes out into their separate bank accounts. And having a setup like that can solve so many problems. One, you’re not arguing about the little discretionary expenditures that each of us make. So if I want to replace my phone every year, then I can do that. Whereas my wife, she wouldn’t spend money on that. She’s going to keep her phone until it falls apart, but she may go out to eat more. And we can both do that from our discretionary spending without it impacting the other spouse because we have a set way that we divvy up the money. And so principles like that, having agreements that neither one of us can spend more than 500 bucks from the joint bank account without approval from the other spouse, building these kind of communication principles into your marriage is something that you can do in your prenup and that is beneficial to the marriage itself.
Stephanie Everett (10:32):
I love this. As I started working with a new financial planner this year, I should say we, my husband and I, and we’ve been married almost 14 years actually this month, and it was the first time she had us set up, she called them play accounts. So I guess we’re doing the inside out because he has a play account, I have a play account. So we determined how much goes into each. And by the way, it’s different amounts for anyone that’s curious. We set up a third account, well, we have numerous accounts, but then we have another account that’s a joint account for dining out and I don’t know, entertainment. And she wanted it to be a bank account because she’s like, you guys aren’t controlling your spending with these credit cards. And she’s like, forget about the points, which was a little sad to me, but I’m working through it and now we can see each month instead of just saying, oh, should we just go grab something to eat? Or I don’t know how much is in the dining out account because if it’s getting low, we might not be able to. And I mean it’s silly, but it has really changed both our spending and also our habits and the way we’re communicating with each other in our marriage about money. So I just take your point so seriously because seen it now again, after 14 years of marriage, we finally instituted this and it really did change things.
Aaron Thomas (11:51):
I love that I mean- and to your point, it doesn’t have to be just these three accounts. For example, me and my wife, our big discretionary expenditure between the two of us is traveling. And so one thing we did was say, all right, we’re going to take 5% of all of our take home income and we’re going to put it aside into a travel fund so that when we want to take a trip, the money is there, it’s already been allotted. The more we make kind of the bigger trips or the longer trips that we’re allowed to take. And because we defined that as a value that both of us have at the beginning, we had the intentional conversation and took the intentional steps to set that money aside for the things that we say are important to us. And I think those are the kinds of things that are possible when you approach your marital finances from this really purposeful standpoint.
Another thing that we do, I love that you said that we meet with the financial advisor is we agreed that if one of us is going to be seeing the financial advisor, both of us have to be there so that we kind of baked into our marriage this idea that there’s going to be ongoing transparency, that we’re going to make these big decisions about our finances together. So there’s not one person that of dominates the financial decisions in the household. What happens in a lot of marriages when there’s not that kind of intention behind it? Along those same lines, a lot of couples will put into their prenup this idea of an annual shareholders meeting For us, we do it every December where we sit down and we have an agenda of what we’re going to talk about. What did our spending look like last year?
Does it match what we say our values are as a couple? Were there any big surprises that we didn’t plan for? Are we both fine with how much is going into the joint account and how much we’re each getting in allowance? And then we can use that information to plan the upcoming year. How much do we want to spend on travel? How much are we going to stock away for retirement? Is this a year that we make a big change moving to another house or do we have private school expenses, daycare expenses, those kinds of things that we can plan around. And doing it intentionally and having a set time to do it has been so great for us because otherwise, I mean, you know what life is like, you get caught up in your day-to-day, and these conversations just don’t happen. But if they’re on the calendar as we’re repeating event, then you make ’em happen. And it really started with us kind deciding that this is how we’re going to set up our finances as a couple in our greenup.
Stephanie Everett (14:24):
Yeah, that makes so much sense. We also have a travel account. I think you know that because we were like, this is important. So we have a travel account, we have a tax account in case anyone’s interested. I have the emergency long savings account, and those are all in high yield interest accounts. Yeah, it’s been helpful. It’s a little bit like profit first for our family in that way that we have these different accounts, but now we can see how much is in each account and it goes up and down and we can plan. So I love the idea of that board meeting. And so do you just do that annually? Do you check in throughout the year?
Aaron Thomas (15:00):
Yeah, so I think that doing it annually is the bare minimum. I think because me and my wife have exercised this muscle of communicating about finances in our household so much that it really happens on an ongoing basis. So one of the principles I have is appointing A CFO of the relationship, there’s always one person that’s a little bit more into the finances than the other, the person who makes spreadsheets for fun. I think that’s probably both you and I in our respective relationships. And I will keep basically a spreadsheet in a shared file that both of us have access to so that any given time either of us can go in and we have access to see exactly what is out there, what are the debts, what are the assets, what are the investments looking like? So there’s that kind of ongoing transparency that happens not just once a year but throughout the year. And some couples decide, okay, we’re going to do it quarterly and after a while, I think it just kind of becomes a habit. It becomes the default for your relationship is communication and transparency
Stephanie Everett (16:09):
And what a good lesson for the kids, the fact that you and your wife have these open conversations. I know Jason and I also do the same. I see it your daughter’s a little bit younger than mine who’s 12, and she now already has a different appreciation for money than I think we did when we were her age, and she even got a little job and she’s actually earned $500 this year reffing soccer. So I’m going to set up an IRA for her, which is a whole nother story, but I’m like, wow, I wish somebody had set up an IRA for me when I was 12, but I think she’ll approach her relationships with money differently.
Aaron Thomas (16:44):
I think that’s a great point. It is something that will become the norm in your household and becomes normal for your kids as well. I think a lot of us grew up in households where money wasn’t really talked about. One, it’s taboo to even discuss money, but you didn’t ask your parents how much they made. I didn’t even really know any of my parents’ finances until we were filling out financial aid applications when I was applying to colleges. And it really is kind of a missed opportunity because a lot of us go off to college and we learn all about financial lessons the hard way. We get bombarded with credit card applications freshman year on campus and we run up some debt and we make poor financial decisions. But if the default in your household is we sit down and we talk about the finances, and it doesn’t mean you have to share your tax returns with your kids, but showing that mommy and daddy or whoever the parents are, talk about the finances openly in your household and make these decisions jointly. I mean, what a great example to set for the household.
Stephanie Everett (17:51):
Yeah, I mean I love that we sort of started talking about prenups, but we’re really just talking about healthy financial relationships or having healthy relationships that involve money, I suppose, which is what I love of the work you’re doing. You’re sort of flipping this script on how we talk about these things and making it to me so much more impactful.
Aaron Thomas (18:15):
I really believe, and I say this in the book, that the financial practices in your marriage dictate the personal practices in your marriage. The financial dynamics in your marriage have huge influence over the personal dynamics in your marriage. And so if you have these baked in inequities and all the finances are opaque and one person controls all of the pocketbooks, and that’s how it works, that’s going to bleed over into the rest of your relationship. And the same thing applies on the other end. If you communicate and are fair about the financial issues, I hope I’m not naive in believing that those kinds of practices will bleed over to the other parts of your relationship. And Stephanie, like you said, we started off talking about prenups and now we’re talking about positive ways to run your marriage. And we didn’t really get to the third principle, which is fairness, which is these contingency plans and talking about what happens if you were to break up if the marriage comes to an end.
But essentially you kind of follow what we’ve already set up. Typically, everybody keeps the accounts or the assets that are in their own name, and you split what is in joint names. And because this is something that you set up at the beginning of your marriage and both agreed what was fair, you’re not kind of leaving it up to future. The future couple, which is what many people see happen in divorces is the time that they have to make these huge financial decisions about who leaves the relationship with what is when all the communication has fallen apart, there’s no more respect, there’s no more trust, and it’s just way more difficult to make decisions about what is a fair way to divide up your assets and your debts at a time when that relationship no longer exists. And that is why so much money goes from the pockets of couples who are on the rocks into the pockets of divorce lawyers, and I say this as a long time divorce lawyer myself who just recognize that it’s unnecessary when couples really should be having these conversations at the beginning of their relationship.
Stephanie Everett (20:27):
Yeah, so true and fair. Let’s take a quick break and hear from our sponsors when we come back. I want to shift gears just a little bit.
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Stephanie Everett (22:54):
Okay, I’m back with if I haven’t said this one of my, well, you’re all my favorites, so I can’t say one of my favorite labsters, but you’re one of our longtime labsters, so I think I can say that, but I love you all. And Aaron came to me a couple of years ago in one of our coaching sessions and was like, Hey, I really want to focus on prenups and how can I shift my business? And if it’s not obvious now, you did just that where you really shifted away from a traditional family law practice where you were mostly handling divorces and now you’re focused on really financial counseling for healthy marriages, right through this idea of the prenup. And I’m just curious if you could share a little bit with the listeners about what that journey has been like as you’ve reimagined and rebuilt your business.
Aaron Thomas (23:45):
Yeah, and it really has been a journey. I think it’s probably been maybe over three years since you and I first started having the conversations about making this change. A big part of it was really shifting my mindset around what was possible. I think that in my mind, I think as lawyers, we’re cautious, we’re pessimists and we’re cautious and we’re paranoid for the good of our clients, but that also goes with our businesses. And in my mind, I think I had this idea that it would be this incremental shift over and just kind of like a tiptoe. And slowly over the course of several years, I would find myself transitioning from the majority of my practice being divorce litigation to being prenuptial agreements. And I really had to break out of that mindset and say, no, we’re going to make this thing happen quickly. We’re going to push the envelope.
And what I realized at the end of the day was that if I wanted to make it to where prenuptial agreements was the core of my practice, I wasn’t going to build this huge successful prenup and postnup business in the two or three hours I had left over at the end of the week after running a busy divorce practice with several employees and ongoing litigation and trial preparation and managing the team and all of that, that at some point I had to take the leap and really dedicate myself to making this the primary thing that I wanted to do. And the one way to make it the primary thing you do is to stop doing all of the other things and make it the primary thing that you do. And so that is what happened in August, September of 2022. I closed down my litigation shop, met with the team. We made it as good of a transition as we possibly could. And I think because of the great reputation that my team had in the community, everybody who wanted to have a job had multiple offers within two weeks of us making this decision. And some of the other teams started up their own firm, which is churning along today with a lot of the former employees of the firm. And starting in September of 2022, I was winding up my last litigation cases and really focusing on building the platform for what is now my full-time [email protected].
Stephanie Everett (26:22):
Yeah, it does sound scary to some, and it was a big risk. What words of wisdom do you have? If someone’s listening to this and they have an inkling that they want to change their practice area or change their business structure, which is really what you did, what would you tell them?
Aaron Thomas (26:40):
First of all, I recognize that it is scary. It is a leap. I had some things going for me. I saved up money. I planned for it. This is not something that I did on a whim and one day just shut down a practice and jumped out there. There was an overlap period of probably seven months where I was still closing up litigation cases that I had taken on, and they were just too close to the end or I’d grown too close to the client to let ’em go and really wanted to make sure that I finished what I started in a number of respects. But I think that I’ve learned that the change can happen a lot faster than you initially think that it can. And that if you do things right, if you save up, luckily for me, I also had a supportive partner who has a great career of her own, who was able to cover the health insurance premiums and make sure that things kept running, but that at the end of the day, the idea that you’re going to starve is not really realistic for most of us.
If you’re an attorney, you have skills, you have a skillset, you have the ability to earn income, you likely have credit, hopefully you have savings, and you have these other things in place, and that once you start dedicating a hundred percent of your working time towards doing the thing that it is you want to do, this may sound hokey, but the universe is going to conspire to find ways to help you along. And particularly when you’re doing something that you really feel strongly about, that you’re passionate about, the motivation and the effort will be there. And when people see that this is what you’re trying to do, I think opportunities will present themselves to you much quicker. I mean, the year prior to me leaving litigation, I was still trying to grow prenups.com, but what’s happened in the year since I dedicated myself a hundred percent to it is just so leaps and bounds beyond what I was able to do when I was trying to juggle that with the litigation practice as well. And so I think a lot of people may underestimate how much more quickly you can grow, whatever the new thing is that you want to do when you have a hundred percent of your effort going towards that.
Stephanie Everett (29:00):
Yeah, I feel like that advice probably also applies to firm owners who maybe don’t want to change practice area or business model, but they’re just stuck working in the business. I mean, you and I have talked about that too, but they’re like, oh, I want to make changes and I want my business to grow, but they keep doing the same things.
Aaron Thomas (29:19):
I think a lot of people could benefit from the idea of ripping the bandaid off and making it happen. I mean, I think that we have the tendency to want to make these changes incrementally, and certainly we don’t want to revolt on our hands when it comes to employees, but we as humans are much more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for. And if you jump in and make the changes, I think for me, another thing that was helpful was looking at everything like it is an experiment, and if worse comes to worse, I mean if really the walls come crashing down, you can go back to what it was you had in place before. At the end of the day, if I was literally having trouble keeping the lights on, I could go back and I could take on some litigation cases, but chances are you’re going to adjust, your firm is going to adjust, your team is going to adjust, and there really is a benefit to just kind of really diving in to what it is you want your firm to look like, what you want your business to look like.
Stephanie Everett (30:20):
Yeah, and since you’ve done that, I should say we’ve mentioned it, but you are able to publish a book, a real life book. I’m holding it in my hands. You’ve been on, I think you just told me 40, this is your 40th podcast appearance, which is amazing. And you’ve really been able to really level up your expertise. And I mean, all the things you’re doing, it’s just been really delightful to be a small part of it and to watch you grow and really develop this business and see how well it’s taken off. So I just want to say congratulations.
Aaron Thomas (30:52):
Yeah, thanks so much. And you’ve been a big part of it. Lawyerist has been a big part of it because of the community that you guys have built up and the type of people that Lawyerist attracts, where some people locally, friends of mine, other attorneys, thought I was absolutely insane to be walking away from a successful, profitable family law practice that I frankly spent years working really, really hard to build. And the Lawyerist community, and you and the other coaches have been like, if this is what you want to do, here are the steps that we’re going to take to get there. And the folks and Lawyerist have been hugely supportive and big fans and a big part of the motivation that’s pushed me to get where I am. So thank you for that, and yeah, thank you.
Stephanie Everett (31:47):
Well, you’re welcome. And if you’re thinking to yourself that you could use some financial support for your relationship and you need to think through this, I encourage you to head to prenups.com, connect with Aaron. He also has a ton of great content on the site, and I think there’s no time like the present, right?
Aaron Thomas (32:09):
Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, we’ve got tons of free content on the site. We’ve got a free ebook. There’s a link to get the actual book, the prenatal prescription if you want to dive deeper links out to all the social media channels and all of that. So a great hub to get a start, whether you’re getting an agreement or not, but just to benefit your marital financial relationship.
Stephanie Everett (32:31):
Thanks for being with me, Aaron. It was great to talk to you again.
Aaron Thomas (32:34):
Thanks for having me on. Stephanie, it’s been an honor.
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10-minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.