Knowing your nuptial agreements: what works for whom, and why

3 minutes to read

Whilst high-profile prenuptial agreements are never far from the headlines, other forms of relationship agreement – post-nups and living together agreements, for instance – are less known options that may be overlooked by individuals. We have joined forces with leading law firm Shakespeare Martineau LLP to examine the different relationship scenarios that may benefit from each agreement.

There are many situations in which marriage is not yet be on the horizon, but the stakes may still be high for an individual – or the family of an individual – who is planning to move in with their partner, or have their partner move into a home they already own. A parent may wish to invest in a property for their cohabiting child, for example; or a divorcee may be planning to cohabit with a new partner.

In such cases as these, a living together agreement (LTA) – sometimes known as a cohabitation contract – may be a wise move. A written agreement detailing the respective wealth and assets of both parties, if signed and witnessed, provides security should the couple separate.

Prenuptial agreements, meanwhile, are often invaluable in circumstances where one or both soon-to-be-married partners is extremely wealthy or perhaps has been unfortunate to be divorced in the past; with assets they may wish to secure before they enter another marriage. A parent or close relative can sometimes be instrumental in suggesting a pre-nup, especially if family wealth is at stake, or in cases where a family member wishes to protect business assets from falling into the hands of future in-laws in the event of a separation.

Crucially, in order to carry legal weight, a prenuptial agreement must be a full and frank disclosure of wealth and property, independently advised and freely entered into no later than 21 days prior to the wedding, with neither party put under undue pressure or duress to sign against their will. Most importantly, the agreement must be kept under review; usually every five years (and if the couple have children) to ensure it remains relevant and fair in the circumstances of that family.

Finally, the increasingly popular postnuptial agreement details how a couple’s assets are to be distributed in the event of divorce. The advantages are numerous: they can be drawn up at any stage in the marriage, provide clarity on matters that were not outlined prior to marriage or that have changed since the marriage took place, and they offer an objective solution to what may be a particularly painful problem, such as infidelity.

Our partner, Joanne Chilton, explains: “Each of these agreements has its own value. Without an LTA, unmarried couples have limited legal rights in the event of separation, meaning one party could find themselves left with nothing. A pre-nup means a couple and their families can look forward to the wedding having ironed out any potential financial or business concerns beforehand. A post-nup, meanwhile, offers the flexibility of financial protection in response to unforeseen events.

“We would urge anyone invested in a cohabitation or marriage, to seek financial and legal advice – preferably well before the status of the relationship is due to change.”

Katherine Marshall, Partner at Shakespeare Martineau, adds: “The agreements outlined offer a “safety net” for couples in the event of their relationship failing. We understand that starting the ball rolling to secure this safety net can be a difficult conversation: we can help you with that; and often the right time to have those conversations is at the beginning of a relationship, to truly understand if you do have common values and principles. We are keen to encourage clients to “Plan for Plan B.”

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