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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Landmark ruling brings the wrong headlines


Landmark ruling brings the wrong headlines.

 A landmark ruling this week gave pre-nuptial agreements a vote of confidence. While the agreements, drawn up by couples before marriage to set out how their assets will be divided if they should divorce, are not strictly enforceable in law, they are taken seriously by courts when a settlement is being discussed.

Their validity was thrown into doubt when French banker Nicolas Granatinio went to the High Court to overturn a pre-nuptial agreement he had signed with heiress Katrin Radmacher before their nine-year marriage in 1998, and was awarded nearly £6 million.

However, this week the Supreme Court ruled on appeal that the original agreement should stand and the Court of Appeal was correct to cut Granatinio’s pay-day to just £1 million of the German heiress’s £106million fortune. In essence, the original “marriage contract” drawn up by the couple married should stand.

Undoubtedly this is a landmark ruling. It shows that at the highest level, British courts have backed a pre-nuptial agreement. Critics for too long have argued that they are not worth the paper they are written on because they are not officially recognised by the courts. This week that view was smashed.

Pre-nups are still seen as unromantic but surely should simply be seen as insurance against something bad happening. They can then save time-money and heartache further down the line.

So I was slightly unprepared for the snide backlash in some quarters of the media in the wake of the initial stories on the ruling. Prenup ruling could lead to exploitation of the vulnerable, poked the Guardian. The great beneficiary of pre-nups – lawyers, blogged The Telegraph. Dawn of the bizarre pre-nup, mumbled the BBC. One eye on the exit even as you walk up the aisle, shouted the Mail, as it tends to do, daily, in a bid to wake-up middle England.

To a greater or lesser degree all of these, and a number of others, bemoaned the outcome of the case as a bad thing. They are missing the point though. Yes, they might appear unromantic but are sensible insurance, particularly when you look at the divorce figures which show it is largely 50/50 whether a marriage will last or not.

A pre-nup makes the bad end of a marriage easier and less costly for all. Yes, the lawyers charge for correctly drawing up the documents, but so does a council charge you for parking your car, a home insurer for protecting your bricks, mortar and possessions, and a window cleaner for…. well, you get the idea. We can’t just give them away.

Pre-nuptial agreements – and living together agreements – are a prudent way for couples to insure against unforeseen circumstances is the future. Far from being “another nail in the coffin of old-fashioned ideas of love, commitment and trust that were once the bedrocks of marriage”, they are a practical insurance for any sensible couple in the 21st century. As such, the ruling of the court should be celebrated for backing them up.

Do you have a pre-nup? If not, why not?


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As well as making a couple communicate seriously about division of assets in the event of divorce, I think a pre-nup could also open the way for them to communicate seriously about financial and other responsibilities within their marriage. Too many couples - especially those marrying for the first time - avoid hard headed conversations about practical matters. As you say, such matters are seen as unromantic. But in a long term relationship, clear agreements about practical matters are the foundation on which romance and love can flourish.

And in the event of a divorce, a pre-nup is less costly both financially and emotionally. After all, a couple is much more likely to make mutually beneficial decisions about dividing assets when they are in love, than when they are angry, heart-broken or bitter with each other….

By Vena Ramphal on Friday October 22, 2010

Thank you for that useful comment. I hope that people will see that prenup can actually be “romantic” or at least can remove those concerns in the back of the mind to allow romance room. ...

By Andrew Woolley on Thursday October 28, 2010

I agree with you Andrew.
I also find the couples most likely to commit to Pre-nups are those marrying again (either post- divorce or following bereavement), who have children from their previous marriages, and are unlikely to have any more due to reaching a certain stage in life. They are often anxious to preserve benefits they accrued for their own children and give very careful thought as to how that can be done. They are considering issues arising from their death just as much as a possible marital break-down and very careful thought is put into ongoing support for the surviving spouse. It is also about trying to look after wider family relationships which is no bad thing…

By Kerry Larbalestier on Friday October 29, 2010

I suppose once bitten, twice shy. Marriage is often referred to as a “contract” and the most important we ever enter into so odd it is the main one usually not in wirting and very unclear what the “deal” is! I really do think that anything which helps couples have those difficult conversations before they marry has to be a good thing. All we want to do with prenups is help people keep their marriage or, if not, help them resolve the financial divorce settlements with as low cost and low aggravation as possible and that can’t be a bad thing surely!...

By Andrew Woolley on Friday October 29, 2010

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