A family lawyer is predicting that meetings with a solicitor prior to marriage could become commonplace after plans were revealed last week which could see pre-nuptial agreements becoming legally binding in England and Wales within a few years.
The warning followed the wedding of Manchester United player Wayne Rooney and fiancée Coleen McLoughlin at the Villa Durazzo in Portofino, Italy.
Although the new Mrs Rooney has on previous occasions declared that the couple would not sign a pre-nuptial agreement before their marriage, many others have regretted their decision not to do so. This list must include Sir Paul McCartney whose legal battle with his ex-wife Heather Mills was a lesson in how a dispute can affect a person’s finances and reputation.
The Law Commission’s proposals would see pre-nuptial agreements given the same legal status as they currently receive in many other countries including the United States.
This has been welcomed by Kevin Harris James, partner and head of family law at the Birmingham offices of Irwin Mitchell.
He believes the legislation of pre-nuptial agreements would make the division of assets clearer should a marriage result in divorce.
“In the same manner that you take classes with your religious leader before getting married, I see the inevitable enforcement of pre-nuptial agreements resulting in the need to see a solicitor before walking down the aisle,” he said.
“I consider this to be a sound move, as couples will be entering into the marriage fully informed of how any money and property will be split should the unfortunate happen and the couple divorce. Like any other type of contract, couples will be bound by the terms of the pre-nuptial – except in exceptional circumstances – providing everyone had full disclosure and understanding of the terms.”
Pre-nuptial agreements can already be drawn up, but UK courts are not currently bound by them.
Mr Harris James added: “Pre-nuptial agreements not only save heartache and bitter rows in court over who has what between a couple but also, on a larger scale, it is in the interest of the Government as they reduce that amount of court litigation. The UK is currently lagging behind a lot of our European counterparts who already have enforceable pre-nups and the balance needs to be changed so that the courts are bound, except in exceptional circumstances.
“I’ve had a number of clients from other countries, who reside in the UK and they cannot fathom out why we still don’t enforce pre-nups here.”