by Salty Caramel
special correspondent from somewhere else
Greenville — When Josephine Nussbaum-Chen was presented with a one-of-a-kind, Frank Gehry-designed bangle just minutes after giving birth to James Lee Nussbaum-Chen, she had just three words for her husband and giver of the $55,000 bracelet, Joseph Edward Chen: “Where’s my necklace?”
The delivering doctor, doula and feng shui consultant were shocked at her seeming impertinence, Nussbaum-Chen laughingly recounted a month after the incident. But the accompanying $80,000 necklace was included in the legal document, or “prenat,” that she and her husband had negotiated eight months prior to that day in the delivery room, specifying the precise financial, religious and cultural conditions under which the child would be raised as well as the breakdown of parental responsibilities.
Buying that personalized “push” present was one of Chen’s duties; breastfeeding their son and abstaining from corn-fed beef until he is at least ten months old is one of Nussbaum-Chen’s obligations.
In an era of helicopter parenting and the dissolution of about half of all marriages, it’s no surprise that wealthy individuals are seeking to ensure that their children are raised in a manner that is mutually agreeable regardless of whether the marriage endures, says Loren Baker, the attorney who drafted the Chens’ prenat. “Prenups are a way of protecting individual financial assets before entering into a financial arrangement. Prenats are a way of ensuring your most precious asset that you produce together doesn’t end up living in an ashram in India for half of the year just because a man’s second wife is obsessed with ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’”
Such contracts have existed informally for generations, such as when a mixed-religion couple agrees to raise a child Jewish, as Nussbaum-Chen and her husband, a manufacturer with businesses in the U.S. and China, have agreed to raise their son.
But the twenty-page document delves into far deeper detail than just which holidays they will celebrate. Among the specifications are that their child will be called “Jimmy” until he is seven, at which point they will revert to “James” or “Jim” in public. That requirement came about because Douglas was mocked in the sixth grade when some friends overheard his mother calling him “Joey.”
In addition, Jimmy will be cared for by a Mandarin-speaking nanny starting when he is a baby, but will have a Hebrew tutor starting at age four; he will listen only to classical music until age three, at which point jazz will be introduced; and he will take classes in equestrian, golf, ping pong and baseball.
There are also limitations, crafted with potential divorce and remarriage in mind: Jimmy cannot attend political rallies of fiscally liberal or socially conservative politicians until he is 18; any pets must be hypoallergenic; if he has ADHD he will try acupuncture before Ritalin; and corporal punishment is verboten.
Baker said that the Chens’ prenat was by no means the most complex document she had drafted, and that it was not uncommon for parents to specify details as mundane as how much allowance their kids would receive, on an inflation-adjusted basis, whether a second ear piercing was permissible and how many siblings they would have.
Although the use of prenats is rising among the uber rich, it’s an idea that engenders skepticism among some. “Sounds like elitist nonsense to me,” said Linda Carp, a new mother of twins. “I don’t need some legal document to say that my kids will be taking the trash out once they’re big enough to wheel the bin.”
Nussbaum-Chen says that despite her delivery room outburst, she doesn’t anticipate referring to the prenat often, and that her marriage is sound — but that you can never be too complacent. “My brother’s third wife insisted on ‘unschooling’ my niece,” she said, referring to the child-directed method of learning. “I brought her to a fancy Indian restaurant and she started eating the curry with her fingers, saying that she was learning the eating customs of economically-suppressed societies.”
Chen chimed in, proudly, “That will never happen with Jimmy because we’ve already agreed what he will study all the way through his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in Jewish studies in 2032 from Duke.”
Salty Caramel can also be found at his own blog at http://saltycaramel.blogspot.com.