Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Pre-nuptials need to be backed by real laws

Government advisers have put forward plans to make pre-nuptial agreements legally binding
Government advisers have put forward plans to make pre-nuptial agreements legally binding

It is very strange that an agreement entered into by two adults of sound mind is allowed to be ignored by the courts. But that is the case with pre-nuptial agreements in this country.

As a result, divorce lawyers are not able to advise their clients whether the pre-nuptial agreement they have signed is worth the paper it is written on. It really is up to the whim of the judge on the day. Now the Law Commission has advised Parliament that a new law is needed to make pre-nups binding.

Many have the idea that pre-nups are a rich person's ploy and certainly the landmark case of German heiress Katrin Radmacher, who had her pre-nup upheld in 2010, bolsters this.

But pre-nups could help to both ease separation and ensure that individuals enter into matrimony knowing exactly where their finances stand.

Often the ignorance relating to finance and marriage and relationships is startling. For instance, few people I encounter know a will made before marriage is voided by the nuptials.

As for unmarried people living together, there is still a belief that there is such a thing as common-law wife and husband rights – there is no such thing.

I know someone married but recently widowed and is now facing legal action from the parents of the deceased husband over an alleged sum given to their son prior to the marriage used as a deposit for a home.

The rights and wrongs of the case don't concern me here, but if a pre-nuptial agreement had been in place then perhaps some account could have been taken of this money.

Pre-nups could help to flag up the need for couples to have a will drawn up to avoid such disputes if the worst happens.

However, there are dangers in pre-nups as in any legal document, and one of these is in the drawing up of the document.

I am seeing an increasing number of horror stories about so-called will-writing firms that charge seemingly cheap prices for their work but either forget crucial aspects of the law or even write themselves into a will as an executor as a means to extract fees in the future.

If pre-nups move from being a rich person's option then let's avoid the pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap approach. All in all, though, clearing the legal path for pre-nups is a real positive.

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