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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I hope the woman whose niece is marrying the rich doctor who wants her to sign a prenup sees my letter. When "Harold" and I married, he had considerably more property and a bigger income than I did. I wanted him and his adult children to know I wasn't after his money, so I volunteered to sign a prenuptial agreement.

Harold's attorney drew up the agreement, and I foolishly signed it without reading it. I assumed that anything either of us owned prior to our marriage would remain our respective personal properties -- but that after we married, we'd accumulate assets together.

Early on, it became clear that Harold wanted our finances kept separate. We never had a joint checking account, and he made me feel like I needed his permission to spend a penny. So I kept my job and never once asked Harold for money.

Well, I finally got around to reading the agreement I had signed. To my astonishment, it specified that we would never own anything jointly, nor have access to anything the other acquired during our marriage. I was crushed. In my eyes, that document made a mockery of our union. I told Harold I didn't know I had married someone who cared so little about my welfare. He maintained that the agreement was a standard prenup.

After that, I knew I had to "make my own way." I divorced Harold, got a higher-paying job and bought a home. I feel more secure now than I did during our entire marriage.

The sad part is, Harold and I always got along great. It was only our difference of opinion about money that wrecked our marriage. Now I am asking myself if I made too big a deal over the whole thing. Abby, your opinion, please. -- ON MY OWN IN TEXAS

DEAR ON YOUR OWN: A prenuptial agreement is supposed to be a pact that is satisfactory to both parties regarding the division of property should anything happen to either one of them or to the marriage. Such agreements are usually negotiated, and as with any legal document, should not be signed unless it has been carefully read and understood -- and checked by an independent attorney. Your mistake was not taking the document to a lawyer of your own and having it explained to you before signing it.

In my opinion, Harold took advantage of your trust. And no, you did not make "too big a deal" out of the whole thing. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I used to be against prenuptial agreements. Now, after a nasty divorce from my ex, who bilked me out of my inheritance from my grandmother and walked away with 90 percent of the assets we acquired during our marriage, I'm sorry I didn't insist on one. I have since remarried, and thought you'd like to know how my current husband describes a prenup: He says the agreement is like saying, "I love you so much that I'm willing to protect you from what 'I' might do if we ever split up." In essence, you are protecting not only yourself, but the person you love. A noble sentiment to be sure. -- HAPPILY MARRIED WITH TWO KIDS

DEAR HAPPILY MARRIED: The document actually does more than that, but I like your husband's definition. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I signed a prenup with my fiance before we married. It was nerve-racking, but we worked it out. The document protects us both. It gave my fiance the peace of mind that I loved him, not his money. And it protects me because I know I'll have financial stability should we ever divorce. My parents thought I was foolish to sign it, but I think they were foolish to object. -- SECURE AND HAPPY

DEAR SECURE AND HAPPY: You're not only secure and happy, but you are also a smart woman.

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