Are prenuptial agreements a waste of time and money?

Relationships|July 12th 2010

This week’s edition of The Sunday Times carried a lurid headline, “An end to the goldmine divorce”, with accompanying pictures of the heiress Katrin Radmacher and her former husband Nicolas Granatino.  The latter couple’s spectacular and hard fought case involving the validity of a prenuptial agreement, made in Germany between a German and French national living in the UK, is due to be the subject of a judgement by the judges of our Supreme Court , which is expected to give a general steer about the validity of prenuptial agreements in England and Wales.

The Law Commission, which recommends potential changes in the law to government, is also currently considering this area of the law. Professor Elizabeth Cooke of the Law Commission has now confirmed that various options will be put forward to Government, including recognition of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and that the report will be accompanied by a draft bill for consideration by Parliament.

The argument in favour of change, according to her, is that people are being deterred from marriage by big pay-outs under the current law, and she states: “There is a certain amount of financial carnage when people get divorced. A well drawn up prenup can give greater predictability”.

With great respect to Professor Cooke, I do not think it is appropriate to describe a financial settlement between the parties as “carnage”. Nor do I agree with the argument that by signing a prenup, hundreds of thousands of people in this country who currently aren’t getting married will be heading off to the altar.

Couples are deliberately choosing not to marry, not because of the law, or any change to the law as envisaged, but because society has irreparably changed. Most people now aren’t now marrying too young or immaturely and then bitterly regretting it– whether shortly afterwards or years later. They aren’t leaping into the legalities until they are absolutely sure that they are making the right decision. Others that don’t marry, including some of those who are dependent upon state benefits, won’t marry either – with or without this proposed change in legislation.

I explore the subject of prenuptial agreements in greater detail in a later post.

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(9)

  1. William capra says:

    You are so wrong… I like many other (men) have been severely deterred from marriage by the unfair UK law. It is not just the celebrity Heather Mills cases but huge anecdotal evidnece (friends or friends of friends) of scores of men who lives have been unfairly destroyed, often where there are no children involved. There are jaw-dropping stories. With the new verdict I will probably get married, and only because it.

  2. Marilyn Stowe says:

    My argument is not about pre nuptial agreements per se: I can see they serve a useful purpose for those who wish to protect for example pre marital or inherited assets. Or those who just wish to regulate their financial obligations with each other.
    I am against a statutory change in the law which would automatically uphold pre nuptial agreements irrespective of fairness as in some other countries.
    I like the Radmacher decision per my recent post on the subject, because it seems to satisfy both sides. There is now a presumption that a pre nuptial agreement is binding : why sign something if you don’t intend to be bound by it – but there is also a safety net of fairness.

  3. Marissa Cowell says:

    I would like to say that being a woman of late 50’s having brought up a child onmy own and held down a career that I have lost all through trusting my partner. Having asked me to marry him, move in with him, sell my house and that I would never have to worry about security again – even though it was greaty discussed that I felt I should maintain some security – I now find myself being asked to get out. Having discovered, after 3 years, that he is unfaithful and now wants another woman in his life, I am powerless. I can’t get a mortgage and the money left from my old house won’t be enough to rebuy. He is wealthy and all I ask is help to buy another property. He declines. Nothing I can do as far as the law is concerned.

  4. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Hi Marissa
    So sorry to read of your problem. If you would like to call me, Im happy to have a discussion with you free of charge, and see if there is anything you can do. Please ask to speak to my assistant, Paul Read to fix it up.
    01423 532600
    Best wishes
    Marilyn

  5. Sara says:

    “Couples are deliberately choosing not to marry, not because of the law, or any change to the law as envisaged, but because society has irreparably changed”. Sorry – you are so wrong. Yes society’s views have changed but there are people like myself, who have been in a 10 year plus relationship, who have never been married but would very much like to get married. My partner is divorced, has been stung by his ex wife who took everything she ‘was entitled’ to – although she had never worked, lazy and contributed very little hence why the marriage broke down. He now, even though I have had the same job for last 15 years, pay my way, have a mortgage with him albeit in unbalanced shares, and his proposal was ‘subject to you taking the same percentage out of the house as you finacially contributed (approx 10%), I can have a car and that’s it’……I work very hard, I am the driving force behind home, I organise everything and quite frankly, he would be lost without me. We will never be on the same salary – he earns a lot – I earn approx 0.25 of his salary. But do you really think that is fair, I am now 40 years old, being asked to consider children out of wedlock – which yes is possible but not something I am comfortable with in the slightest. Do you also think it is fair that our relationship should be ‘because we choose it’…..no – it is because of what happened to my partner in his divorce and he doesn’t want to have that happen again. Do you think it’s fair because of that is his situation, I either can stay as a partner, never have the experience of a marriage ceremony, and god forbid should I sign the document and something goes wrong, I end up having to start all over again whilst he stays in the house, benefits from all my hard work (decoration etc) and I end up working the same hours as I did when I first scrapped together the deposit on my first flat which was sold to put the funds in to the house for. And if I have a child – I would have that to contend with too?

    Is security of a marriage not a two way thing? Is it no longer about knowing the person before you marry them? I am 40 as I’ve said, my partner is 47. We have been together for over 10 years, know each other for 12 years and that apparently, holds absolutely no value. What for me would be a fair document in the event of a split (i.e. keep the proporotional split in the house but split 50/50 any increase in the value of the house) is apparently not acceptable.

    Quite frankly, am sick to death with it all! I cannot blame my partner – it is the law that stops things being about values and instead about deal breakers before you head down the isle…….marvellous!

    . Most people now aren’t now marrying too young or immaturely and then bitterly regretting it– whether shortly afterwards or years later. They aren’t leaping into the legalities until they are absolutely sure that they are making the right decision. Others that don’t marry, including some of those who are dependent upon state benefits, won’t marry either – with or without this proposed change in legislation

  6. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Sara-
    Thank you very much for this. Im going to write a post responding to you. It will be posted shortly when Ive had some more time to think and write it. You make some very true and interesting comments which should be more widely shared because you aren’t the only person in this situation.

  7. Alison says:

    Dear Sara – I read with great interest you comments above – I have been in a relationship for 20 years, I have asked my partner to marry me three times but he has refused because of his experiences with his first wife – it does not seem to occur to him that I am a completely different person. So back in September I told him I want to separate, but he wouldn’t intially accept this. He also refused to leave the house despite the fact that he owns a 42ft live aboard all year round yacht (which he has spent Tue and Wed nights on since I have known him) – he is 16 years older than me (I am 48). He tells me that he is too old to be able to buy another house – note he owns the yacht and his own company which is doing well. So since September we have had to live in the same house – so we don’t actually appear to be separated….I don’t have enough money to move out unlike him.
    We own the house jointly and I understood that meant I would be entitled to half but after reading the information on this website I am not so sure now. The law has to change to reflect the world around it and the world is full of unmarried couples. I feel total abandoned by the law and my government and feel very much like a second class citizen, totally unsupported. Life it pretty bleak. I wish you well in your fight for justice. Alison

  8. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Dear Alison
    Thanks very much for your comment. If you own your house jointly with your partner and there is no deed signed by you both which provides for unequal ownership then you are entitled to half. You should also be able to swiftly obtain an order for sale of the house if he won’t agree.
    As you may have noted, I am a strong supporter of cohabitation law and I take every opportunity I get to say so! It’s a great pity that so much time is being spent on prenups when readers of this blog leave comments clearly demonstrating how dreadful they are both in content and the adverse impact they have on the relationship they are meant to stabilize.
    I am in the course of writing a more detailed post about Saras situation which will be up
    tomorrow.
    Best wishes,
    Marilyn

  9. Guillaume says:

    Hello,

    I have lived in the UK for 8 years now and am about to get married in France with a British woman. Being French, i see prenuptial agreement as the best way to avoid thinking about money or thinking that the partner could be interested in marrying for money. I would also hate to imagine my partner think I marry for money and would insist on having a prenuptial agreement signed (although I think my soon to be wife underestimates the potential assets her dad has and that she will one day inherit).

    I find the UK law an absolute deterrent to getting married and am shocked to see how the law of a developed country can overturn a decision made by two knowledgeable and advised adults. When it comes to children, I also believe that the assets should not be taken into account, but rather for the wealthiest (in term of income) to support the one who keeps the children and the level of support to be determined by court.
    The Court should only make a decision on the Children impact, not on the impact on the partners. I see no reason why the least wealthy before the wedding would be entitled to benefit from the standard of living she/he had during the wedding. Both should go back to the standard of living they had before and all the efforts of the wealthiest should be focused on the children. If the least wealthy wants to find a higher living standard, she/he can try to find another partner who will support her/his standard.

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