Clean break via a pre-nuptial agreement

The Financial Times recently reported that professionals in the City and those working abroad are increasingly turning to pre-nuptial agreements in order to protect the savings and investments generated from their labour. These “new money nuptials” are a contradistinction to the “old money nuptials” which typically look to ring-fence assets inherited on the death of parents, grandparents etc.

So are pre-nuptial agreements binding and are they worth the “hassle”? To help breakdown the issues, let’s work with the following common example.

Jeremy is a British citizen who is getting married to Jenny, an Australian national who was schooled in England. They both currently live and work in Qatar taking advantage of the more favourable tax system. Jeremy is a civil engineer and Jenny an English language teacher. They plan to continue living in Qatar after marriage but do intend to return to England to set up a family. There is a significant imbalance in assets. Jeremy has roughly £1,500,000 in assets, including equity in a house in Cheltenham and investments. Jenny has a few thousand pounds in savings. Neither party is likely to inherit any significant sums.

The current position on pre-nuptials in English law is that weight would be given to them in the event of a disagreement provided certain factors are met. Importantly, the agreement must be fair in the prevailing circumstances and accompanied by some important formalities i.e. independent legal advice, absence any duress (pressure) and typically they are signed at least 21 days before the wedding.

Many pre-nuptials seek to ring-fence assets accrued before the marriage, so in Jeremy’s case the properties and investments, with the agreement essentially providing that the couple will, the event of a divorce, share the wealth they have built together – what might be called the “fruits of the marriage”. However, it is highly recommended that the pre-nuptial is periodically reviewed – it is important that neither party will be left without financial provision, and any children will need to be properly provided for. Staying with the above example, if Jeremy and Jenny have daughter, Jessica, the pre-nuptial would need to altered on Jess’ birth to take her into account and make sure she is provided for. So while there may be a clean break between Jeremy and Jenny on divorce, it is not possible for a parent to get a clean break from a child and issues such as child maintenance will need to be considered.

In terms of their benefits, pre-nuptials offer the likes of Jeremy and Jenny the certainty of knowing what will happen in the event of a divorce. The fact they currently live in Qatar is not necessarily a “deal-breaker” – a clause can be entered into the agreement which provides that both parties agree at the outset that any later dispute will be dealt with by English courts applying English law. More than this though, given the cost of a prenuptial is significantly less than court proceedings post divorce it really does pay to discuss and draft a prenuptial.

Traditionally many people like to sit down with their solicitors and discuss matters, nowadays with Skype it is often possible to discuss matters via the web. Papers can be faxed and sent via email.

Please contact Rebecca Silcock if you have any questions relating to pre-nuptials.

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