ARE you contemplating marriage in this season of love? Along with the red roses and champagne, you might want to consider a trip to the lawyer to draw up a prenuptial agreement outlining what to do if romance disappears. Planning for divorce before marriage is a bit like planning for death before birth, says Robin Egerton, secretary of the Hong Kong Family Law Association. But these days, when Hong Kong sees more than 10,000 divorces a year, more couples are taking the precaution of preparing for the worst. Prenups have a nasty image, Mr Egerton admits. We hear of the extremes - of the rich and famous who use this legal device to prevent spouses from getting some of their wealth. New York property developer Donald Trump perhaps is the most infamous example. He divorced his second wife, Marla Maples, months before their fourth anniversary, when their agreement would have put her in line to share his fortune estimated at US$2.5 billion. Instead, she had to make do with a mere $1 million. In Hong Kong, premarital financial agreements are not such unromantic documents. Mr Egerton has not handled any cases where negotiations turned so sour that the couple backed out of marriage plans. Instead, he says, the agreements should reflect healthy openness and honesty. 'They can be fair and straightforward, give greater security and remove anxiety,' he says. 'They may mean that there is nothing to mediate later on.' Unlike parts of the United States and Europe, Hong Kong does not recognise prenups as legally binding, but Mr Egerton says a judge could take such an agreement into consideration during divorce proceedings if it had been drawn up correctly, which involves each party being independently represented and offering full financial disclosure. Although family lawyers receive an increasing number of requests for such agreements, Mr Egerton is not aware of any having been put to the test in the Family Court. Family lawyers say prenups are helpful particularly for couples who are marrying later in life, whose members are financially independent and who do not intend to have children. 'It is more complicated to draw them up for younger couples because their assets are built up together. The arrival of children also always complicates them,' Mr Egerton says. 'But there is a general advantage. They make people think about the consequences if a marriage does not work out, which is not a bad thing. That may seem very unromantic and depressing, but so often, problems arise due to communication problems or misunderstandings of how the family finances are going to work. If these things are sorted out early, perhaps there will be less reason for conflict later.' It is not a healthy sign if men and women are not ready to discuss money before they get married. Prenups establish how differences, usually related to finances, will be resolved. They can suit any circumstances, defining how assets would be split or establishing that each party will not make any claim against the other. 'For example, if a rich woman marries a poorer man, her instruction might be that she proposes to pay him 'X' in the event of divorce or that they agree they won't make a claim against each other. It is a question of degrees and, maybe, of how long the marriage lasts.' Young couples can consider the 'what if' question before marrying, but Mr Egerton does not advise them to agree not to make claims against each other, because they cannot foresee what will happen in the future. If a husband is disabled, for instance, he might need to make a claim. Courts also have a duty to ensure that children's interests are paramount rather than any agreement that might compromise the security of the person who cares for them. Premarital counselling also could set a young romance on a more secure footing. Rona Ross, a counsellor at Resource: The Counselling Centre, offers such a service which includes helping a couple agree about how finances should be managed during the marriage. She believes it is important that couples be aware of their different values and backgrounds before marriage and consider how they will bring up their children and manage their finances. 'Conflict is normal. It is how you are going to resolve and cope with that conflict that is important,' she says. The greatest conflicts arise over finances and sex. 'If you get them both right, the marriage has a good chance of surviving. But there has got to be negotiation, to each person's satisfaction,' she says.