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?