Prenuptial agreements – we’ve all heard of them. They are the relatively unromantic contracts drafted and signed by couples either prior to or after getting married which clearly state how their assets and affairs should be dealt with in the event of separation or divorce. These types of agreement aren’t strictly enforceable or legally binding in the UK and have such typically fallen foul of uncertainty and ambiguity in their practical interpretation. This, however, is changing and the legal weight they carry has been picking up pace with recent developments.
In 2010 the UK Supreme Court ruled that a prenuptial agreement between German paper company heiress, Katrin Radmacher, and her ex-husband, Nicolas Granatino – which stated he would not be entitled to any of her £100 million fortune – was binding. Whilst the courts still maintain the right to waive any pre or postnuptial agreement which is deemed unfair – especially to any children of the marriage in question – the general consensus was that after this case it would be natural to infer that individuals entering in to these types of agreement would wish to be bound by them.
This was a view strengthened in February 2014 when, in a report on the reform of matrimonial property laws, the Law Commission recommended that prenuptial agreements should indeed be legally binding if couples meet the qualifying criteria – which, for the most part, this appears to simply incorporate existing common law precedents into statute (satisfy basic contractual requirements e.g. no evidence of fraud, undue influence or misrepresentation, take independent legal advice, and sign the document at least 28 days before the wedding itself).
Another interesting trend currently gaining impetus in regards to relationships and the law is that of the cohabitation agreement – or as it has now been dubbed the ‘no-nup’. These agreements have been called essential for non-married couples who live together as, despite what many think, there is actually no legal status in English law as a common-law spouse or partner. Given the fact that the number of cohabiting relationships in the UK is at an all-time high, 6.5million according to the latest census information, it certainly would seem that such an arrangement could save a lot of trouble if it was all to go awry.
Indeed, such an agreement can clearly and concisely lie forth how various areas of possible contention should be addressed, both in partnership and after separation. These can include: stating who/how bills and general living costs shall be paid; who’s responsible for paying the bills and addressing living?; ownership of property and assets post-separation; how jointly acquired assets and debts will be dealt with; child maintenance and support above and beyond any legal obligations.
The benefits of such an agreement certainly seem to outweigh the possible negatives. Indeed, facilitating arrangements whereby the parties are able to make their own decisions as well as avoiding costly and lengthy litigation can only be viewed as a positive.
So there we have it, a very brief overview of the legal power given to pre-nuptial agreements, and its modern counterpart – the non-nuptial agreement. Irrespective of whether or not you find such agreements crass and unromantic, one must always bear in mind that romance is short upon the separation of a partnership. Simply put, these agreements are pragmatic and sensible, and provide peace of mind in the occurrence of a relationship break-up.