Prenuptial agreements (PNAs), if not entered into freely or if they yield unfair results, are typically of little legal value. However, a recent High Court case has underscored the importance of signing PNAs after obtaining independent legal advice, making them more likely to be considered valid by judges.
The case revolved around a PNA signed by a couple approximately three months before their wedding. At the time, the husband, a highly successful financier, had a net worth of around £32.5 million, which had considerably increased since. In contrast, the wife possessed assets totaling a modest £60,000. Their marriage endured for about 14 years, resulting in the birth of two children, before the wife initiated divorce proceedings.
In adherence to the PNA’s terms, the husband proposed offering the wife £11.75 million, aiming for a clean break. This amount included a housing fund of £4.75 million and income-producing capital of £7 million. However, the wife assertively contended that the PNA should be entirely disregarded, seeking more extensive financial provision.
In its ruling, the Court considered the fact that both individuals had sought independent legal counsel from highly respected family solicitors before signing the PNA. The principle of equal sharing was not dismissed, and the PNA, which also made generous provisions for child maintenance, would have been invalidated if the marriage had persisted for 25 years.
The Court acknowledged that the couple had engaged in what was described as ‘the mother of all arguments’ prior to signing the PNA. Nevertheless, it was a mutual disagreement, and they had ample time to cool off before putting their signatures on the document. The husband had clearly stated that there would be no marriage without a PNA, which was customary. Overall, the Court was unconvinced that the wife had been subjected to undue pressure to accept the PNA.
Concluding that the PNA could not be disregarded, the Court determined that a fair agreement had been reached. It was certainly not a complete surrender by the wife. This ruling ensured that the wife and their children would be provided for in accordance with the husband’s proposal.
In providing guidance for the future, the Court emphasised that individuals contemplating PNAs should be aware that it is a significant step to instruct lawyers to draft such agreements. PNAs are intended to offer clarity and minimise the risk of future disputes. Unless there is something fundamental undermining their validity, judges are highly likely to uphold them.
For expert assistance in crafting a robust and legally sound prenuptial agreement, you can rely on Seatons, with a wealth of experience in family law matters.
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