Earlier today I appeared on the popular Radio 4 magazine programme Your and Yours, to discuss the sometimes controversial topic of prenuptial agreements.
Popularly associated with Hollywood stars and the very wealthy, in such agreements couples with assets set down in black and white just who will get what in the event of a divorce – and do so, as the name implies, before the wedding has even taken place. Participants hope to avoid costly and acrimonious financial wrangling should the relationship fail.
Back in 2011, I wrote about this topic in the Yorkshire Post.
I travelled to the BBC studios in central Leeds to share my thoughts on this topic. Presenter Peter White told viewers: “Four in ten marriages end in divorce, often a traumatic and acrimonious experience. So who are prenups for, and could they be a good thing?”
The interview is currently available here if you missed the show (Marilyn’s section begins as 20:57)
Transcript from Marilyn Stowe on BBC Radio 4 – You and Yours
PW Peter White
MJS Marilyn Stowe
PW: Marilyn Stowe is the Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law and she also sits on the advisory panel at the Law Commission. Where does the law currently stand on prenuptial agreements?
MJS: Currently the law is, all property that belongs to either spouse is available for sharing on divorce.
PW: Regardless of what the prenuptial agreement might have said?
MJS: Regardless. However, increasingly, people who have contracted to determine what would happen in the event of a divorce, the contract; providing it has been done voluntarily, it has been done usually with the benefit of legal advice, there’s been full and frank disclosure and the provision is fairly reasonable, can expect those agreements to be upheld.
PW: So what are the benefits of having a prenup?
MJS: Well, I’m a bit ambivalent about them actually. I can understand the sense in doing a prenup if, for example, you are entering a second marriage; you’ve already been married, you’ve got children and you want to sort out inheritance and make sure that the children from the first marriage are provided for, I can understand that. Similarly, there may be people who inherit assets or are gifted assets by third parties who want those assets ring-fenced in the event of a marriage breaking down. But if I was one of two young people going into a marriage and hopeful that the marriage would last and if somebody was asking me to sign a document which was manifestly unfair, I don’t think I would marry that person.
PW: Right. Maybe you should know beforehand if they’re likely to impose an unfair agreement on you…
MJS: I have had experience of people who have been subject to unfair matrimonial contracts, some of them are from abroad; they sign up in a different country where these agreements are perfectly legal and binding and they come over here and many years later the marriage breaks down. I’ve never had an experience of a court upholding those agreements but increasingly there is pressure so that prenups can be fully legally binding.
PW: It seems that in the past there was a celebrity focus on them but is there evidence that more people, more straight-forward people who aren’t celebs or people who aren’t necessarily very rich are making prenuptial agreements?
MJS: They are. I think the concept of autonomy, the ‘we want to do what we want to do within a marriage’ is becoming much more popular. I think that women, the same as men or maybe even more than men, as there is more equality in a marriage I think that some couples will see the sense in trying to protect what’s theirs. In the event of a marriage breaking down they know where they stand and again, on the face of it, that is a perfectly good argument.
PW: Right, in a word, do you think they are going to be made legally binding?
MJS: I do.
PW: You do?
MJS: That’s my view. I don’t know for sure but I do think so.
PW: That was two words. You did very well there, Marilyn.
MJS: Thank you.
PW: Thank you very much indeed.