Prenuptial agreements – ‘prenups’ – are always, perhaps, going to be a hot button issue, provoking water cooler debate and gut reaction. For many, they conjure up images of overbearing spouses-to-be fast-talking their less wealthy partners into restrictive agreements that may not be in their best interests.
It all depends on your point of view I suppose. If you are someone lucky enough to own substantial amounts of money, property or other assets, contemplating marriage, I’m sure it makes perfect sense to try and protect those assets before the big day.
Not unlike taking out travel insurance before driving to the airport.
The problem with this picture, of course, is that it is almost always the wealthier partner who holds the most away in relationships and has the readiest access to legal representation. English law has to date not followed the lead of the US and other countries and made prenups legally binding. Such agreements retain an uncertain status in law and the amount of weight given to them by the divorce courts depends wholly on the particular circumstances of each case.
Perhaps the commonest reaction to the concept of the prenup, however, is that they are just not very romantic. Many people instinctively feel that marriage should prioritise heart over head and be an emotional leap into the unknown. From this point of view, contemplating failure and divorce with a formal legal agreement before you have even tied the knot seems opposed to the whole spirit of marriage.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury has taken this very stance. According to a new report in the Mail, the Right Reverend Mark Davies believes giving prenups legal standing would erode the institution of marriage. He declared:
“Our society would be proposing to couples seeking marriage that they prepare their own divorce settlement before making the life-long promises of marriage. It is a legal provision which would surely empty the words of the marriage promise for “better for worse… to love and to cherish till death do we part” of all meaning.”
The bishop added:
“Pre-nuptial agreements would render these promises provisional by the legal preparations which anticipate divorce. We must ask ourselves, what message does this send to couples considering marriage? What message does this send to the young at a moment when the institution of marriage stands at such a historically, low ebb?”
For many in 21st Century secular Britain, the Right Rev will seem a remote and irrelevant figure. But I think many will share his sentiments on the prenup, whether or not they are Catholics or even religious. Does contemplating divorce before you have even gotten married rob the ceremony of any emotional meaning? If you want to marry, should heart rule head or head rule heart?
Cameron Paterson is a journalist with an interest in legal matters. He has edited the Marilyn Stowe Blog since August 2012.