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Prenups, petnups and postnups: a pragmatic approach to marriage

With the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, an increasing number of people are considering the more practical aspects of marriage, particularly the finances. The role of the prenuptial agreement, more colloquially known as a “prenup,” is one of the more pressing issues to come to light and a growing concern in the UK.

Bristol-based Partner, Joanna Newton, explains more about prenups, and alternative agreements that couples can use to protect their finances ahead of marriage.


A prenuptial agreement combines romance and realism. These written agreements are extremely common in the United States, especially among wealthy individuals and celebrities.

In the US, a prenuptial agreement specifies who will be responsible for each spouse’s assets throughout the marriage. This includes property and other large assets, as well as money. In the event of a marriage breakdown, the prenuptial agreement will be used to determine who owns the assets following a divorce. Prenuptial agreements are popular among the wealthy, particularly in the current economic climate, because they serve as a safety net and a form of protection.

Prenuptial agreements are not currently legally binding in England and Wales, as they are in many states in the United States. However, they are given significant weight by family courts when making decisions about final financial orders, provided they are properly drafted by a legal expert.

Family lawyers are seeing an increase in the number of couples who want to draught prenuptial agreements to protect their assets and, in many cases, their children. Within modern family structures, children are frequently born to unmarried parents who later marry. Prenuptial agreements can be used to financially protect the couple’s children, which is a motivating factor for many.

Certain requirements must be met in order for a prenup to be considered valid in an English or Welsh family court. The agreement must be signed at least 21 days before the wedding, be reasonable and up to date, and be drafted by a family lawyer. Both parties must have obtained legal advice and provided complete financial disclosure.


Along with the prenuptial agreement, many couples choose to have a ‘petnup’ in place. With pets, particularly dogs, being included in engagements and weddings and considered by many as family members, this can only be a natural extension of the prenup. A petnup, like a prenup, is used to determine who owns the pet in the event of divorce or relationship breakdown, and it helps to avoid unnecessary distress for both humans and animals.

A proposal and a prenup may be the most agreeable way to prepare for marriage for the more practical romantics.


However, there is a slightly less well-known document called a postnuptial agreement that functions similarly to a prenup but can be used by couples who are already married. This could be because one partner has received a large sum of money, such as an inheritance, or the couple decides that with children and assets growing in general, they require financial and legal protection.

A postnuptial agreement provides some protection by defining who owns what and what happens to it if the marriage ends in divorce. The postnup can be implemented at any point during a marriage and can be used to address the situation at the time of writing or any future events, such as the birth of children.

If the couple is divorcing, a family court in England and Wales will consider the postnuptial agreement along with other factors. These may include the length of the marriage, financial assets, and each spouse’s contribution. Again, the document must be prepared by a family lawyer, and each spouse must have obtained legal advice.

Cohabitation agreements

If you’re in a long-term relationship and want to take the next step (like moving in together or buying a house together), signing a cohabitation agreement can give you some peace of mind if the relationship doesn’t work out. Cohabiting couples, unlike married couples, do not have the same legal rights, and their claims are limited to financial arrangements for children and property ownership.

A cohabitation agreement can offer some protection to cohabiting couples by recording, among other things, how existing assets are owned, whether there were any unmatched contributions in any owned property, how assets will be divided upon separation, and what would happen to specific funds such as any inheritances that one party may bring into the relationship.

Unfortunately, there is currently very little guidance on cohabitation agreements. However, if properly drafted by a family lawyer and adhere to the general tenets of a prenup, they are likely to be upheld by a court in the event of a dispute if the relationship fails.

Useful links

Stowe Support – Cohabitation


The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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