What do you tell couples who intend to marry regarding pre-marriage contracts?
In its description of marriage, Vatican II blended insights about marriage drawn from scripture and from other sciences to form a new theological framework for our pastoral practice (see the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, nos. 47-52). Marriage had been viewed as primarily a biological and juridical union, but since the Council, it is seen as one which is more interpersonal, spiritual and existential. These three spheres contribute to the overall sacramentality of marriage and assist married couples in living together and in a sharing of life-supporting tasks that includes every aspect of life. When answering questions about marriage contracts, I say we see them as a good thing. Such contracts deal with temporal goods and sometimes deal with issues such as land which has been inherited from one generation to the next for five generations or more.
Not only is there nothing wrong with such agreements, they can in fact help to avoid conflicts and disagreements. A canon law expert says he considers them something like fire detectors and smoke alarms -- you hope never to have to use them, but it is too late to go and buy them once the fire has started! One must distinguish, however, between such agreements and others which would relate to the marriage itself, thus placing conditions on a marriage which is not allowed. Examples of such unacceptable contracts would be agreeing never to have children, or requiring a male child, or a certain amount of money, or requiring the completion of a certain level of education.
As you can see, much depends on the way the term is used. Properly used, these contracts can contribute to the overall vision of marriage through which the worth and dignity of each person is realized in a mutually supportive solidarity.