A step-by-step guide on Pre-Marriage Agreements & advice on how to approach this sensitive subject.
Whether you are a first time newlywed with assets you want to protect, or whether you have been through a painful divorce process before and to ensure you don’t suffer the same way again, a Pre-Marriage Agreement (sometimes called a Pre-Nuptial Agreement) is not only smart and pro-active, it also ensures you are both on the same page and know everything about one another before you even walk down the aisle.
What exactly is a Pre-Marriage or Nuptial Agreement? When you get married or enter a Civil Partnership, if you unfortunately separate, you and your partner each have the right to make certain financial claims. A ‘Pre-Nup’ sets out what may happen if the marriage ends, to minimise the involvement of the Courts. It can help to protect the resources that you each bring into the marriage. In the event of separation, it says how the assets should be divided (or debts paid). And, it can set out what the financial support and arrangements for any children will be.
Step-by-step guide: The whole process typically takes 2 months, so there is no time like the present to get the process started. Don’t wait until just before the wedding, you’ll have already so many plans on your plate, and you’ll want the wedding and the honeymoon afterwards to be a time of enjoyment and romance… not about finances if you break up! Or, why not create your Nuptial Agreement after the honeymoon? (not everyone knows that you can do this once you’re married) Below is a list of the ‘essentials’ in drawing up an Agreement and making it binding:
- Disclosure of all financial information (see next section for what must be disclosed)
- Both parties must seek separate legal advice or the court could view the Agreement as invalid, or 1 person may say they didn’t know what they were signing, or were coerced into the agreement.
- Negotiations can be done ‘round the table’ or by Collaborative Law; sometimes they are done by a mix of private conversations and solicitors’ letters and emails
- The Agreement is drafted by a solicitor
- The Agreement is signed by both parties, and witnessed by a solicitor
- The original Agreement is kept at each solicitors’ office for 7 years; it should be reviewed at this time, if not every 5 years. Consider whether there have been any big financial or life changes during that period. (Who knows you may have had children, or won EuroMillions, and suddenly everything you originally agreed on seems no longer applicable)
What information must be disclosed and agreed upon:
- All assets, this includes items such as bank accounts, property, pensions, stocks or shares, vehicles or other high value or sentimental items
- Any business ownership, assets or shares
- All debts, such as overdrafts, credit cards, car loans, student loans or mortgages
- Clauses in other legal documents such as in a Will, Life Insurance or Pensions that dictate who the beneficiaries are and how it will be distributed
Advice on how to approach the difficult subject of pre-nuptials
Timing is everything. For goodness sake, don’t just blurt out coldly in the middle of a heated discussion about the wedding and finances or after too many glasses of wine “Just so you know if you ever divorce me I am keeping this house because I bought it before we met”… Choose a day when you both have had a good night’s sleep, and aren’t stressed and have privacy.
Get to the point. Don’t be deceptive, be honest and straightforward. Explain that you feel now is a sensible time to talk about where you both financially sit as individuals, and how you both want that to change after getting married. You will come across as clear-headed and will be less likely to start an argument.
Be transparent with your feelings. This is the time leading up to your marriage that you are bonding and building trust… So share your feelings with your partner and explain that this isn’t an evil plan to cut them financially off if it doesn’t work out. Maybe it’s about having seen your parents go through a messy divorce and you stuck in the middle, or maybe it’s because you’ve personally been through it and want to make sure you and future children wouldn’t end up in WWIII. Sharing those feelings builds your bond and understanding, you may be surprised and find out he/she feels the exact same way.
Remember there are benefits for both parties. It can reduce the future financial risk for both of you. Think of it like insurance, you don’t buy car insurance expecting to get in a crash, or buy home insurance thinking someday you’ll watch your house burn down in flames… But if it does happen you are suddenly extremely grateful that you were smart enough to insure yourself!
Make it about planning for your future together. Compile a list of both of your assets and debts, and find out what you are worth as a couple. Create a 5-10-20-30 year plan that ticks both of your boxes and discuss what you both need to do to get to stage 1, whilst also discussing when you want to retire and what type of lifestyle you want to have together at that stage. And discuss how to safeguard everything you will work towards by having that uncomfortable conversation about life insurance and Wills, stressing that you want to make sure your partner will be well taken care of if god-forbid something did happen to one of you… Now suddenly the (Pre) Nuptial Agreement doesn’t seem like the focus of the conversation or such a horrible concept.
You may blame us, your solicitors, for putting the idea in your head. When you told us you were getting married the first thing we did was ask when you wanted to come in to start discussing drafting a Pre-Nup. After all it’s our job as a neutral 3rd party to look out for your best interests during the course of your entire lifetime. At least this way you aren’t blaming a parent and causing a rift between your partner and his/her new in-laws!
In reality, marriage is hard. There is a reason that 42% of all marriages end in divorce, and it’s not because we go into it thinking that will be the outcome. But if you were told that you had a 42% chance of watching your house burn down in your lifetime, you know very well that you’d make sure you always had house insurance. There are two big decisions in life, marriage and buying a house, so make sure you protect them both equally.
End on a positive note. Data from the office of national statistics suggests that the number of divorces is significantly falling in recent years. It’s likely that couples are having more open conversations right from the start, in hopes of breaking the divorce cycle they saw their parents go through. Or maybe we are all just becoming a bit more sensible like our parents always hoped we would grow up to be!
Can we help?
If you or a loved one has recently got engaged or married and are interested in learning more, our Family Team are happy to answer your questions. Fix fee prices start from £500 (inc.VAT) to draft and execute a basic Pre-Marital Agreement or £200 to review a draft your partner has given you. We are proud that 9.6 out of 10 of our clients highly recommend our family legal services.
Click here to send us a message or ring us on 0115 910 555, or 01623 468 468.Request a Callback
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