Pre-nups 'on the up'

Prenuptial agreements have been in the news a lot recently, not least amid the tabloid feeding frenzy that has taken place over the Katie Price and Peter Andre divorce.

It was revealed that he had signed a prenuptial agreement so that he would not get any of her financial assets. Any court case that disputes this could focus a lot of attention on the issue.

What seems clear is that the number of pre-nups is very much on the rise. A survey published by Grant Thornton this week showed the prevalence of such arrangements, with 56 per cent of family lawyers stating that they drew up more agreements of this type than any other.

In comparison, 36 per cent of solicitors majored in cohabitation agreements and just two per cent said the bulk of their work involves civil partnerships.

Forensic partner at Grant Thornton Robert Kerr said the recent increase in prenuptials has partly been a consequence of the credit crunch, as partners seek to protect their assets.

He stated: "As more and more couples are bringing more individual wealth into a relationship they are seeking to protect their assets, ensuring that upon separation each leaves the partnership with the assets that they entered with.

"I can only imagine that this trend will continue to rise, particularly in an economic downturn when people will feel increasingly vulnerable about their financial position."

Of course, pre-nups are not legally binding in the UK, but this can be less of an issue than cohabitation, an area where Mr Kerr said an increasing number of lawyers are asking for more clarification.

He added: "The major issues for cohabiting couples are custody of children, rights and share of property upon separation and the question of inheritance upon the death of one partner.

"In the eyes of the courts 'common law marriage' does not hold the same legal rights for cohabiting couples as it does for married couples, however many cohabiting couples often do not realise this until it is too late."

For those who cohabit rather than marry, putting together a DIY prenuptial agreement to cover any future split may be a particularly useful thing to do, partly because it will ensure that more protection than automatically exists in law is in place, as well as saving the cost of hiring lawyers.

Those who do likewise for pre-nuptials may find this will enable them to carry out a DIY divorce more easily if the marriage breaks up as well, since a prior agreement would already be in place to guide much of the process, leaving fewer details to be worked out.

Of course, such prenuptial agreements can be particularly useful if things go sour, with one extreme case reported this week being that of an art dealer who tried to get a large slice of his ex-wife's fortune, despite the fact that he is currently in prison for abusing her grandchildren.

The judge ruled out his claim partly on the grounds that it would be "inequitable" for her to make any provision for him in such circumstances, but also because he had signed a prenuptial agreement.

Most marriages that end do not do so in circumstances as bad as something that can see one partner behind bars for serious crimes.

While many are nonetheless acrimonious, the existence of a prenuptial agreement may not just suit those who part amicably, but could also give them a good reason to do so, since arguing the terms of an agreement could seem like a waste of time and effort. It could pave the way for a DIY divorce without the extra cost of getting lawyers involved.

Written by Rachel Crook

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Published on: June 10, 2009

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