The issue of pre-nuptial agreements can be a tricky one – many couples don’t want to consider the possibility that their marriage may not last, and feel that talking about it shows a lack of faith. However, we think that couples should always at least know the facts when it comes to pre-nups, particularly if one or both of you has their own property or significant financial assets. We asked Nicola Harries, a partner at law firm Stevens & Bolton LLP, to give you the lowdown…
The Law Commission has just recommended that couples should be able to sign contractually enforceable pre-nups if they desire. Unfortunately, many are simply too squeamish to raise the issue at all. Two hundred years ago, couples were often very aware of their future spouse’s financial position. As Mrs Bennett famously said in Pride & Prejudice, Mr Bingley was “a single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year.”
These days, fed by an on-going diet of Hollywood rom-coms in which there is no place for such discussions, many may wed with a rose-tinted, ‘Disneyfied’ view of what marriage really is. The divorce stats sadly speak for themselves. How then might having a pre-nup help strengthen a marriage?
It helps you discuss the big issues
As marriage has become more secular, fewer people are attending the pre-marriage classes that have historically been run by the church. These often challenged couples to consider the basics, sort of like a pre-wedding relationship ‘MOT’. Would they own a house or bank account jointly? How many children would they have – if any? Where will they go to school? This way, couples could check that their goals were aligned. If there was disagreement, it was better to know before tying the knot. As marriage becomes less religious, this discussion opportunity is often lost. Pre-nups are a helpful catalyst for the same discussions.
You’ll know exactly what’s happening with your finances
Pre-nups require couples to be transparent about their financial position, whether they are richer or poorer. Pre-nups are commonly thought of as agreements to protect wealth, but they can bring other things to light. For example, would you re-consider your plan to marry if you discovered that your fiancé was bankrupt or had substantial, previously unmentioned debts?
It shows that you’re marrying for love alone
It is common for the wealthier party to instigate the preparation of a pre-nup, with the intention of protecting the greater wealth that they will bring to the marriage. The pre-nup can be seen as an insurance policy against gold-digging, reassuring you that your wedding is taking place for the right reasons. However, if you have lost your parents and have inherited at a young age, it may be equally important to you emotionally to know that this money can be protected, be it £20,000 or £20 million. Pre-nups are no longer the reserve of the super-rich, and it’s best to have such sensitivities out in the open from the start. Equally, where there is an imbalance in wealth, the signing of a pre-nup by the less wealthy partner truly says that they are entering the marriage vow for love and love alone.
It can save you arguments in the long run
For many, pre-nups are controversial because they contemplate the possibility of failure. However, it is hard to think of another potentially life-long venture into which anyone would enter without thorough research and contingency planning. It is common sense to think plans through to all possible conclusions, and in so doing, save yourself potentially years of acrimonious arguments and thousands of pounds of legal fees. When better to have a rational, informed discussion than when you are actually talking to each other? If the worst happens, communication is the first thing to suffer. It’s much better to have discussed and planned at the beginning, which gives you a route map to follow if the worst happens.
You’ll have more control over your future
Finally, for many couples, there is comfort in knowing what will happen if the worst does occur. Asking a complete stranger to make life-changing decisions about your family’s future is an awful prospect, even if that stranger is a judge. Lawyers often say that if neither the husband nor the wife are happy with a judge’s decision, the decision is probably right. If that is the best you can hope for from a judge, it is unsurprising that most couples would prefer to have more control over the outcome. A pre-nup provides that autonomy, allowing a couple to decide their own outcome. Neither may get everything they want, but they will have made the decision together. That can be much easier to live with and could strengthen your relationship in the future. You may not be married forever, but if you are a parent, the easier the relationship, the greater the benefits for your children and grandchildren.