Couples try for better marriages with ‘prenuptial agreements’

By Pham Nga   April 14, 2024 | 05:26 am PT
When she was single, Thuy Vi created a list of criteria she wanted in a partner, as well as a prenuptial agreement that addressed the potential problems in marriage.

In the agreement, the 32-year-old civil servant working in Ho Chi Minh City outlined some major terms, including having children, financial obligations, inheritance rights, the obligation to care for parents and children in emergencies, as well as dividing housework and responsibilities to support each other during difficult times.

In terms of finances, she listed items that must be shared, such as daily living expenses, debt payments, caring for parents (if necessary), insurance, investment, personal development, and travel. Thuy Vi, while listing her conditions, wished to place 80% of her and her future husband's income into a common fund to cover all the aforementioned expenses. The housework would also be shared between the two.

Thuy Vi believed it would also be necessary to agree on the number of children to have and, in the event of infertility, whether to adopt or not.

Furthermore, according to the agreement, she and her future husband would also disclose all their plans, including financial plans, investments, savings, and any short- or long-term goals. If one of them unfortunately died, the other would not interfere with assets acquired prior to their marriage. All of their remaining assets would be divided in accordance with the law. Her parents would receive additional assistance because they did not have a pension.

Not only that, Thuy Vi's "prenuptial agreement" included seemingly minor details like not arguing in front of others, especially their children. During arguments, they must not change how they address each other. If one were to raise their voice, the other should hold back and wait for them to calm down before continuing their conversation.

In 2021, Thuy Vi began dating Anh Huy, who was a year her senior and worked in the banking industry. He met all of the criteria she had set. When discussing getting married, she brought the prenuptial agreement into the discussion. "After a conversation we finalized the terms," she said.

Thuy Vi and her husband Anh Huy on a trip to Phu Quoc, 2021. Photo courtesy of Vi Vi

Thuy Vi and her husband Anh Huy on a trip to Phu Quoc, 2021. Photo courtesy of Vi Vi

In 2019, My Linh (living in Lam Dong) spent a day negotiating a "prenuptial agreement" before moving in with an American man named William.

She asked her husband if they would live with his parents, and if so, what rules would need to be established. When they moved to America, he would be the one to provide financial assistance if she hadn't found work yet, and if so, who would be in charge of spending?

"We also agreed in advance that I would stay at home and be a housewife while he went to work, so he was not allowed to complain about it," My Linh went on to say.

William agreed to live with his wife and "pay" her to do the housework. My Linh would then be able to send the money to her family or spend it however she wanted. When spending a large sum, the couple would need to discuss the matter with each other before coming to an agreement.

They agreed to live together for two years before deciding to have children so that they could better understand each other. "I would not move to America until we’d reached an agreement. It helped us feel secure and understand our responsibilities and obligations in our marriage," she explained.

My Linh at a restaurant in the U.S., March 2022. Photo courtesy of Linda

My Linh at a restaurant in the U.S., March 2022. Photo courtesy of Linda

There are no comprehensive statistics covering such issues, but Nguyen Thi Tam, a Ho Chi Minh City expert with nearly 20 years of experience in marriage and family planning, believes that signing agreements, including "prenuptial agreements," is becoming more common among Vietnamese youth as a result of the influence of Western lifestyles.

According to a 2022 Harris Poll, 15% of American adults have signed a prenuptial agreement, an increase of 12% since 2010. 35% of people who are not married say they plan to arrange for an agreement in the future.

"Today, young people marry late, resulting in a large amount of private property [having been already accumulated on both sides]. Some people who remarry or marry foreigners want everything to be clear from the start," Tam said, adding that this helps couples such as Thuy Vi and her husband achieve fairness in marriage by discussing not only property rights but also other issues relevant to the relationship.

Some 54% of nearly 700 readers polled by VnExpress agreed that a prenuptial agreement is necessary to establish rules and clarify responsibilities, rights, and obligations to achieve marital equality.

Dr. Tran Tuyet Anh, Director of the Family Department at the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, praised couples who are prepared for marriage in the way that Thuy Vi and My Linh were. The Family Department is still implementing a Vietnamese family development strategy, with one of two tasks being to create a public service model that teaches men and women how to build a happy family before their marriages.

According to Dr. Anh, young people today are more cautious and knowledgeable about marriage, but many are still unprepared. Family-building issues can be sensitive and difficult to discuss, and parents may not know how to communicate about such problems with their children. Schools and educational institutions have also been unable to orient pupils in this direction, leaving it up to families.

"Due to lack of preparation, sometimes couples just get married one year and get divorced the next," said Dr. Anh.

Dr. Tuyet Anh's point of view was reinforced by a court report, which stated that Vietnam has 600,000 divorce cases per year on average, of which 70% involve young families aged 18 to 30, and 60% divorced after 1 to 5 years of living together. According to data from the Institute of Family and Gender Research, lifestyle conflicts are the leading cause of marital crisis, accounting for nearly 28%.

Prior to her current happiness, Thuy Vi had a marriage that ended after three years due to a lack of preparation. She stated that in her previous marriage, she was solely responsible for living expenses, while her husband spent money on investments. He went out drinking from the morning until late at night, while Thuy Vi went to work and waited for her husband to return home. The two traveled hundreds of kilometers on the road but only communicated a handful of times.

"We didn't understand each other and didn't set marital principles from the beginning, so we were confused about marriage, leading to the breakup," she said. Thuy Vi's pain and friction in this relationship helped her realize the importance of establishing a prenuptial agreement from the start.

However, psychologist Nguyen Thi Tam stated that a prenuptial agreement carries risks because when a person falls in love, they can easily accept all of their partner’s offered terms – however, upon living together, they might violate the agreement because they no longer respect their partner.

If the rules of the marriage are part of just a simple agreement without a signed legal document, it is extremely difficult to control, Tam said.

"Therefore, before starting a romantic relationship, it's important to thoroughly understand every aspect of the other person to make sure they respect the agreement," Tam advised.

Thuy Vi and My Linh both did exactly that.

Thuy Vi outlined a list of criteria for her "Mr. Right" before dating, which included appearance, personality, health, geographical location, worldview, sex, surrounding relationships, and how he behaves with his lover.

She also admitted that, despite careful planning, there are still unpredictable events in marriage that cause disagreements.

To maintain her happiness, My Linh chose to reflect on her marriage once a year, while Thuy Vi has kept the terms of their agreement up to date.

"Many people say getting married is like gambling, but gambling is a game of chance. If you think choosing a husband is purely based on luck, it's because you’re not knowledgeable enough," Thuy Vi shared.

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