On 20 October 2010 in a landmark ruling England’s highest court decided that “”decisive weight“” should be attached to a pre-nuptial agreement signed between German heiress Katrin Radmacher, and her more impoverished husband Nicolas Granatino. Upon their divorce, Mr Granatino argued that such agreements could never fetter the discretion of English courts, and that he was entitled to a generous share of his wife’s fortune estimated at Â£100,000,000. The court disagreed, observing “”it is natural to infer that parties entering into agreements will intend that effect be given to them””. It ruled that the contract which he entered into was binding, and that the court was obliged to respect the arrangements which Mr Granatino had agreed with his wife prior to marriage. He was awarded a mere Â£1,000,000 by way of settlement.
This single decision has paved the way towards pre-nups now being enshrined in the law and recognised by all English divorce courts, provided that they are properly prepared, and meet certain strict legal criteria.
Whilst the decision stops short of saying that all pre-nups are always legally binding and must be implemented by the courts, it is quite clear that, in all appropriate cases, a court will be inclined to uphold any contractual arrangements set out in such an agreement, unless there are very good reasons for not doing so.
What does this mean?
All parties considering marriage and who wish either to protect pre-existing assets or achieve some certainty and control over their futures (should they be one of the unlucky 40% of couples who eventually divorce) should consider a pre-nup is as much a part of the wedding package as a church service, bridesmaids, and bad speeches.
Certainly, those who wish to plan ahead and protect their pre-existing assets should the worst happen, would be well advised to make an appointment with a specialist family lawyer even before the date is fixed and the church booked.