Will the bucks fizzle out?

Divorce|December 20th 2007

The Courts have been waiting eagerly for a pre-nup test case like this…”

Pamela Harriman the late daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill was as renowned for her political foresight in supporting the then unknown but coincidentally charismatic and good looking Bill Clinton for the US Presidency – as she was for her string of incredibly rich lovers and husbands.

Although she sometimes ended up apparently poverty stricken, she always managed to find someone else to bank-roll her lifestyle.

It may be wrong to place the undeniably stunning Susan Crossley, nee Sangster (racing magnate), nee Lilley (of Lilley and Skinner shoe empire fame) nee Nicholson (Kwik Save co-founder) into the same category. However, this serial divorcee who is seeking a share of her last husband’s reputed £45million fortune despite signing a pre-nup agreement – has just found out to her cost that the Courts are not impressed with this conduct.

We may be witnessing a change in the Court’s approach to wealthy wives who have made little or no financial contribution to a short, childless marriage. I never understood why such women walked away with great riches, and I still maintain that the House of Lords award last year to Melissa Miller – who in her early 30’s reaped a £5million settlement for a two-year marriage to which she had not contributed financially – was wrong and excessive.

I hear ‘on the lawyer’s grapevine’ that the Courts have been waiting eagerly for a pre-nup test case like this – and voilà! ­

This is the perfect case (a short, childless marriage) where the wife will not suffer injustice if the pre-nup is upheld. Both parties are very wealthy: Mrs Crossley has reputedly made some £18million from her previous divorce settlements. Her extremely prosperous fourth husband, property developer Peter Crossley, had the foresight to tie his new spouse into a pre-marriage agreement to protect his financial position. But just 12 months after tying the knot, Mrs Crossley is coming to court again, to set aside the agreement and try her luck for another hefty settlement. The question is whether having given disclosure of their finances to each other, both being advised by lawyers, and both voluntarily entering into the pre-nup, should it be upheld?

The Court of Appeal gave Susan Crossley short shrift. Instead of condemning the parties to the full process of a marital battle over assets, the Court upheld the decision of Mr Justice Bennett, and set it down quickly for a full day’s hearing.

So will the government change the law to make pre-nups automatically legally binding instead of retaining the safeguard implicit in current law which allows the Court to give effect to a pre-nup if it is fair to do so? I think if they do it will be a recipe for disaster. I have come across many pre-nups in the past, made in other countries. The terms are usually grossly unfair to the poorer spouse.

Reflecting on the fiasco in 1996 failed miserably and was never brought into effect, I query whether the government has the will or wherewithal to bring in a contentious law that will probably only ever benefit the very rich and does not sit well with our overall aim, to achieve a just, reasonable and fair result for both parties.

The stark reality of pre-nups is that where there is a disproportionate impact on one spouse, they are likely to be unfair. If they weren’t, what would be their point? So I don’t see the need.

As for Alan Miller, it’s a pity he did not have the same foresight as Mr Crossley.

 

Author: Marilyn Stowe

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

Comments(3)

  1. “Prenuptial agreements: a rethink required” says:

    […] Sharp canters through current law, including some well known cases such as Crossley v Crossley,(2008) 1FLR1467, where predictably the Court of Appeal indicated it was likely they would uphold […]

  2. “Prenuptial agreements: a rethink required” | sueincourt.com says:

    […] Sharp canters through current law, including some well known cases such as Crossley v Crossley,(2008) 1FLR1467, where predictably the Court of Appeal indicated it was likely they would uphold […]

  3. Family law, pre-nups and Sir Mark Potter says:

    […] I argued then, giving full, automatic legal effect to pre-nups would not lead to greater fairness, but to […]

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