Pre-nups given recognition in English law

Wealthy German heiress wins legal battle with husband

Pre-nuptial agreements were given significant recognition in English law for the first time yesterday after a wealthy German heiress won a landmark legal battle with her former husband.
 
Three Appeal Court judges ruled that the assets of Katrin Radmacher – a paper industry heiress said to be worth £100 million – should be protected from her French ex-husband because of the pre-nuptial contract they signed before they married.

They said that in future cases, judges deciding the division of marriage assets should give ‘due weight’ to pre-nuptial contracts freely entered into by the parties.
 
In what one divorce solicitor described as a judgment that was ‘hell-bent’ on enshrining pre-nups in law, the judges even suggested the agreements could be an alternative to the ‘stress, anxieties and expense’ of divorce hearings in the courts.

Miss Radmacher, 39, had brought her case to Court of Appeal to challenge an earlier ruling in the High Court that she should give £5.85 million to Nicolas Granatino, despite him having signed a contract vowing never to make claims on her if they split up.

Lord Justice Thorpe, sitting with Lord Justice Rix and Lord Justice Wilson, said: ‘In so far as the rule that such contracts are void survives, it seems to me to be increasingly unrealistic.

‘It reflects the laws and morals of earlier generations. It does not sufficiently recognise the rights of autonomous adults to govern their future financial relationship by agreement in an age when marriage is not generally regarded as a sacrament and divorce is a statistical commonplace.’

The contracts are still not binding under English law, as there is no provision for them under Section 25 of the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act.

But Vanessa Lloyd Platt, a leading divorce lawyer, warned that those who signed pre-nups thinking they were worthless would now be making ‘a seriously flawed move’.

‘This will open the floodgates for people asking for pre-nups,’ she said, noting: ‘It’s not just the wealthy, it’s filtered down to the middle classes.’

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