Some couples mark their engagement with a lovely ring, a sweet engagement party or the creation of a gift “registry” somewhere like Bed, Bath and Beyond or Target. But a not-so-romantic gesture may also be involved: The Prenup. This document can take many forms and is designed to protect one or both parties from having their fortune demolished in the case of divorce. That’s right, the very prenup meaning introduces the idea of divorce before you’re even married. Is it ever necessary, or just a greedy move by rich jerks? Here is that answer, along with a few words of wisdom about the process.

Define ‘prenup’

What’s a prenup, exactly? You’ve probably heard the phrase bandied about on ‘Real Housewives’ shows and in upper-crust circles. As in, “Wow, I bet that dude wishes he had a prenup now that she caught him cheating and he just signed that NBA contract…” The definitions of a prenup, “prenuptial contract” or “premarital agreement” are all the same: A written contract that two people have drawn up ahead of getting married.

If you’re like the majority and don’t have a prenup, state law determines what happens to your property if you get divorced or one or both of you die. Depending on where you live, it may cover only the assets jointly created after marriage. But some states also involve property one or both parties had before they tied the knot. The typical prenup details what property each fiance owns and then lists their property rights after the marriage and in case of divorce. Sometimes, if a state has particularly liberal or restrictive property-sharing in case of divorce, that will motivate two people to create a more appealing division.

Do you need a prenup?

Usually, a prenup is a little lopsided, with the wealthier fiance requesting one to protect assets he or she brings to the marriage. But worrying about how much a divorce could cost is only one reason people get prenups. The contract can also protect married people who aren’t particularly wealthy. A couple with children from prior marriages might employ a prenup to make sure their property passes to their own offspring at death or after a divorce. Without a prenup, the surviving spouse may get all the property under state law.

Prenups can also help spouses protect each other from debts one or both incurred ahead of the marriage. Another prenup motivation is simply to clarify financial rights and obligations during the marriage. According to the certified mediator and collaborative lawyer Andrea Vacca, a prenup can be a very good thing, even if your assets aren’t lavish. “A prenuptial agreement allows couples to work together while they are on good terms to determine financial decisions in the case they decide to end their marriage – what I call conscious coupling,” she wrote on the New York Divorce Lawyer blog. “Most millennials have grown up with divorced parents in their own family or that of very close friends or family – and have seen the havoc divorce can play. If you’re planning your marriage or legal partnership, you want to start outright.”

Prenup dos and don’ts

If you do decide a prenup is a good thing (and your relationship survives one party suggesting the idea), you’ll want to proceed logically and legally. Here are some of the most important pre-prenup steps:

Start at least a few months before the wedding. That gives you time to settle any tiffs and also to dig up any necessary financial and legal documents. Vacca recommended letting your fiance know you want a prenup even earlier, at least six months ahead of the ceremony.

“Discussing this topic before the wedding plans are already in full swing helps to ensure that the conversation will be less emotional and more practical,” she said.

Beware of sudden urgency. If your fiance suddenly wants to sign a prenup the week before the wedding, that’s the opposite of “conscious coupling” and could even be considered a red flag.

Examine your own motives and records first. There are loads of questions you’ll have to answer as part of a prenuptial agreement process. It’s a good idea to have your answers ready before you meet with your fiance and the legal reps. If you’ve examined your motives and hard numbers ahead of the negotiations, you’ll save time, fees and emotional upset.

Get a look at each other’s most recent credit reports. This is a good idea even if you aren’t going to be completing a prenup. After all, if you’re going to “share and share alike,” you should know all about your fiance’s debts and repayment records.

Decide on a time limit. In most states, you can opt to let the agreement expire at a certain point or be renegotiated at an agreed-on point in the future.

Stay involved. You can usually opt to make the prenup an agreement struck by the attorneys. While that might work if you have lavish assets and an established legal team, even well-off people would do better to show up for the negotiations in person. That helps you remember you’re getting married (presumably) because you love this person and want the best for them. It will also cut back on a lot of attorney-introduced competitive and hurtful prenup clauses.

Make it all yours. As you approach the prenup process, make sure to involve just you, your fiance and your attornies and mediators. There’s no need to let everyone in on the news that you’ve decided to enter marriage with a prenup in place. When you don’t solicit a lot of outside advice and opinions, you’re far more likely to arrive at a premarital agreement that you’re both comfortable with. Think of it as good preparation for married life.