'Baby-nups' are a new trend - but are they a good idea?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Prenuptial agreements (or prenups) have long been an issue of contention among those taking the plunge into marriage, but what about a baby-nup?

Should families-to-be consider setting out exactly what their expectations are of each other in a contract before a baby comes along, or is the need for one a sure sign distrust is already in the air?

People who dislike prenups have long said they work against a relationship of trust, can easily be overridden if taken to a court of law, and pave the way for financial abuse.

However, the purpose of a prenup is to ensure each partner gets their due financially. Similarly, a baby-nup ensures that each parent receives an equal share of both the work of raising children, and their own recreation time.

In heterosexual partnerships, women are often obliged to not only carry and birth the babies, they also take on a disproportionate share of the domestic workload. Baby-nups can help combat this inequality. In same-sex relationships, there can be dynamics that affect one person's role more than the other.

Increasingly, in many kinds of families, the baby-nup is viewed as desirable.

US website Parade spoke to couple Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich and her husband Daniel.

"We really wanted to have a plan in place before the baby arrived", Julie explains.

With both Julie and Daniel in demanding jobs, they conducted a series of meetings, and used project management tool Asana, to create their family plan.

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"They divided up chores and decided who would be on early-morning duty or bedtime certain days of the week, and executed it once their baby was 3 months old to give them time to re-evaluate it during the newborn haze", reported Parade.

Julie says it's worked for two years so far, explaining, "Every morning and every evening is assigned to someone," Julie says. "It's no-negotiation, but we can trade if necessary. We both having extremely demanding jobs, and it just helps bring some clarity to the insanity that is parenthood."

Here in Australia, families are also using the concept to build stronger family units with consistent expectations.

Jaye is a Sydney mum of one who is co-parenting with her wife and the child's father, who lives separately to the couple.

"I had witnessed a family go through during a court-bound divorce where the very young child was regularly used as a bargaining chip", she recalls.

"This motivated me to have a contract in place prior to the birth of my own child in order to have the emotion taken out of the decision making now, in case of any future breakdown – thus lessening the impact on the child."

With three parents actively involved in the now 6-year-old's life, extra factors - such as babysitters being known by all parents, and equal involvement - were carefully considered and made part of the plan.

Jaye says it has been such a success there has been no necessity for an annual review for the past few years. She also says it's a great idea for all families, regardless of the family structure.

"Going through the process of writing an agreement, it became apparent that all families could benefit from an agreement regardless of the type of family – blended, traditional, modern, otherwise.  I recommend writing one, no matter what your family looks like. 

Therapist Candida Virgo says that, "Anything that encourages open and honest discussion around expectations when it comes to raising children is a good thing", adding that, "...it's a good opportunity to discuss each parent's values around the care of the children."

She cautions that some flexibility of the plan is a must as the child grows and develops through life stages, and to factor in any change in life circumstances of the adults.

Mum-of-two Magda likes the idea. "I probably wouldn't make it a legal document like a prenup, but it seems a great idea for discussing/setting expectations, as a lot of the work automatically/silently goes to the woman and it would be great to bring that out in the open in a relationship."

And mother-of-three Sabrina says she wishes she and her ex-husband had done a baby-nup. "If we had laid out our expectations of each other before the children came along, maybe things would have turned out differently", she said. "I found myself increasingly trapped in a traditional gender role that I couldn't escape", she explained. "I just assumed we were on the same page regarding the work of raising kids, and we just weren't".

Jaye adds that in the event of family breakdown, "...it allows all parties to move on sooner with less collateral damage to the little ones and themselves."

While a baby-nup might at first seem like a ridiculous idea, it turns out that it works brilliantly for a lot of families. Many responsibilities in life are entered into using a formal contract, so why not parenthood?