I advise clients on divorce and matrimonial matters every day of the working week. But most of my clients don’t know that in my spare time I’m planning my own wedding. I’m now contemplating everything I need to consider before entering into the momentous marriage contract with my husband-to-be.
I am now 10 weeks away from the big day. Whilst I have a ‘to do’ list as long as my arm (including cake tasting, booking a photo booth and proofing the order of service), I am reminded daily of what can happen if it all goes wrong. This got me thinking, if I were advising myself, what should I be considering from a legal perspective before entering the world of marriage?
1) Who keeps the rock if it goes wrong before the big day?
Whether you’re still up to your neck in student debt (like me!) or a millionaire with money to burn, getting married will change your legal rights.
In fact, your legal rights actually change the minute you say yes to the proposal. In the past, Slater and Gordon have seen engagements break down and legal cases arise over who keeps the engagement ring. The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 provides the answer to who keeps the ring. The gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be an absolute gift and should, therefore, be retained by the bride-to- be.
If conditions were attached to the giving of an engagement ring, for example, an agreement to return the ring if the wedding is cancelled, then the proposer will retain the ring. It is possible to ask the court to decide on this issue if you are not able to agree, and a court may say there was an implied intention that a ring would be returned if it had particular sentimental value to the person who proposed, for example if it was a family heirloom.
2) If we Had Assets Before we Met, Can we Keep Them if we Separate?
From my pride and joy, little Ford KA car, to my fiancé’s Steinbach piano, once we say “I do” all property owned by either of us is considered a shared matrimonial asset. (I’m not sure who is getting the better deal there!)
On the break-up of a marriage, section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act is considered when deciding how the matrimonial assets should be divided. Proposals can be made to ring fence pre-marital assets, but if your spouse has a greater ‘need’ for this resource then the court may award it to them. This is why it’s important for people to consider a prenuptial agreement, particularly if they have pre-acquired wealth.
3) Should we Have a Prenup?
This is certainly not the first thing on mine or my fiancé’s mind whilst we plan our luxury honeymoon to the Maldives but it is a practical consideration which couples should discuss.
Whilst prenuptial agreements are not binding in the UK, following the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a prenup (in the case of Radmacher) it appears they will be recognised in the future. In order for the agreement to be upheld couples need to obtain independent legal advice and fully disclose their financial position to their partner. Timing is also an important consideration and people should not delay in discussing this matter with their loved one.
The majority of my clients obtaining prenups are usually in their second or third marriages, possibly having had their fingers burnt once before. However, entering into a prenuptial agreement should also be a serious consideration for those entering into marriage for the first time.
My advice to my clients when deciding whether a prenup is necessary is this: you will probably take out wedding insurance when you plan your big day. Having a prenup prepared by an expert family solicitor is like having insurance for your marriage. Although you hope you’ll never need to use it, there might come a day when you’ll be glad you have it in place.
I wish all my fellow brides and grooms to be the best of luck with their impending nuptials and encourage them to enjoy planning their wedding but also to ensure that they have prepared for their marriage.
Charlotte Brinsley is a family and divorce solicitor at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.
For legal advice from a specialist family lawyer, call Slater and Gordon 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.