My Money: A Modern Marriage?

December 2010

The changing role of pre-nuptial agreements

With the announcement of the engagement between Prince William and Kate Middleton, it is clear that this Royal marriage will be firmly placed in the 21st Century but will that extend to their financial arrangements?

The Middletons’ family wealth has been built up from a very successful online party business but the disparity between the financial positions of the engaged couple has led to suggestions that Prince William would be well advised to consider protecting his financial position with a pre-nuptial agreement. A recent change in the law’s approach to this area may be set to assist.

Long regarded as the province of the Hollywood stars, English Courts have been reluctant to place too much emphasis on pre-nuptial agreements, reached between couples around the time of their marriage, when resolving later financial disputes within divorce proceedings. Instead, the courts have considered that such an agreement should be only one of an extensive number of factors to be considered when deciding how financial assets should be divided. This viewpoint, however, is rapidly changing following the landmark case of Radmacher v Granatino.

Miss Radmacher, now estimated to be worth in the region of £100 million, married Mr Granatino in November 1998. Prior to the marriage, the couple entered into a pre-nuptial agreement, a requirement before Miss Radmacher could receive a considerable inheritance from her family. Under the terms of the agreement, neither could benefit from the other’s wealth either during or after the marriage.

After 8 years, the couple separated and after a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court was asked to decide how much weight should be attached to the pre-nuptial agreement.

The Court decided that because Miss Radmacher and Mr Granatino had intended that their agreement should be binding and they had all of each other’s financial information available to them, the pre-nuptial agreement should be followed.

This opens the door to allow Courts to place greater weight behind such agreements but it is also clear that pre-nuptial agreements will only be followed with care. For example, if one party has applied unfair pressure on the other to sign or there are children who would be prejudiced by the agreement, the Courts will be quick to reduce or entirely remove the enforceability of pre-nuptial agreements. Similarly, if the agreement would result in basic needs being ignored, the Court will place less significance upon the agreement.

Considering the very significant wealth of Miss Radmacher, the question you may be asking is “could this apply to me?” The answer is “yes”. Pre-nuptial agreements are worth considering even for those not as wealthy as Prince William.

It may be that you are contemplating marriage but wish to protect assets which you already have, perhaps from an inheritance or previous marriage. Alternatively, you may play a significant part in a family business and wish to state at the beginning that your share should not be ‘up for grabs’ if you get divorced later on. A pre-nuptial agreement could help you.

There are many reasons why you may be interested in learning more about pre-nuptial agreements and it is well worth seeking detailed advice about your circumstances. Remember; in Radmacher, the Court said that if legal advice is received, there is a greater chance that a pre-nuptial agreement will be followed.

In the meanwhile, we will have to wait and see whether the ‘Royal Wedding’ is preceded by the ‘Royal Pre-Nup.’

If you wish to learn more about pre-nuptial agreements, please contact the Family Law Team on 01256 354481.

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