Pre-nups, or pre-nuptial agreements, are often heard about in glamorous press stories but very rarely understood. They serve as a type of binding agreement between a couple just before they get married, applicable in the eventuality of the marriage ending due to death or divorce.
The divorce rate in the UK is estimated at 42%, meaning that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. When the stakes are high, wealthy individuals might be concerned about protecting their money. But the reasons for pre-nups aren’t always straightforward, and there are other situations that might encourage a couple to sign some before they marry.
Whether you’re studying family law or considering getting married later in life, it’s always worth learning about pre-nuptial agreements and what they mean.
What’s the purpose of pre-nups?
Terms included in pre-nups typically concern the direction and ownership of important assets and personal wealth. Pre-nups are therefore more common in marriages where one partner is significantly wealthier than the other, or when couples marry (or re-marry) later in life.
Their primary purpose is to outline these agreements concerning financial and property arrangements, saving costly and time-consuming eventualities if the marriage should end unfavourably.
Since pre-nuptial agreements often concern sensitive subjects, they require a lot of patience, responsibility and mutual understanding. For many couples, seeking confidential advice and support from a family lawyer is an integral part of the process.
What do pre-nups cover?
There are several types of financial and property matters addressed by pre-nuptial agreements. These might include:
- Division of physical and monetary assets acquired during the marriage.
- Protection of specific assets or businesses, especially for one partner.
- Spousal support terms.
- Estate planning and inheritance rights, particularly for landowners.
Pre-nuptial agreements might also include clauses that relate to specific responsibilities throughout the course of the marriage. However, these often include some limitations too, and there are certain areas that can’t be covered by pre-nups.
What are the legal limitations of pre-nuptial agreements?
There are certain areas that pre-nuptial agreements can’t cover. Even though they save couples time and emotional strain in the event of separation, there are still some decisions that can only be made after the couple has decided to finalise a divorce.
- Child custody and long-term child support decisions.
- Matters that could promote illegal activities or violate written policy.
- Unconscionable or unfair terms, especially in the event of domestic abuse.
Pre-nuptial agreements should focus on financial and property aspects, not emotional or personal matters. If one partner has grounds for divorce based on emotional or physical abuse, it’s even more important to seek professional legal and pastoral support.
How could pre-nups benefit a marriage?
However, there are several advantages that could be noticeable throughout marriage if you sign a prenuptial agreement. These might not be limited to the mega-rich and could still benefit ordinary couples, especially if they’re retiring soon. These include:
- Clarity and peace of mind in the event of divorce.
- Protection of individual financial interests, like savings.
- Potentially lower legal costs and reduced emotional stress through divorce proceedings.
- Protection of family assets for family members and children from previous marriages.
In summary, pre-nuptial agreements help individuals to protect the assets and wealth they acquired before the marriage. They’re not ‘unromantic’ and should be seen as a pragmatic step in planning for a secure future.