Russell Brand's stupid financial mistake
Where next with divorce settlements, as pre-nuptial agreements receive a boost.
'Aint doin' no pre-nup', Russell Brand said of his marriage to Katy Perry this week. In the light of the fact that his marriage coincided with news that pre-nups may have greater legal weight than previously thought, was this the right decision – or a big financial mistake?
First of all, from the various comments on this matter emanating from law firms, I doubt any lawyer would be able to tell you with certainty whether pre-nups are now legally binding in the UK. Whilst legal commentators all agree that the impact of many pre-nuptial agreements on divorce settlements is going to be greatly increased, the long essay of a judgment still needs more time for consideration, and it needs to be tested again before we'll know how far it will reach.
So what does this mean for you?
If you're as clueless as me on celebrities, you won't even know who Katy Perry is. Perhaps also like me, you don't have (or expect to have) such huge piles of money that making a pre-nuptial agreement comes first to mind. Having read a variety of early legal opinion, it seems that most lawyers believe we are about to see a reasonable increase in the number of rich people drawing up these agreements, but not many others.
I think they may be missing a group that could drive pre-nuptial agreements into common practice. 'Aint doin' no pre-nup' may be the words of those going into a first marriage, but some people will have gone through the horrors of divorce before. The divorce rate is now so high (five times as many over-50s are divorcing than ten years ago, and the divorce rate is getting closer and closer to 50% of all marriages and civil partnerships) that those who have been through it once may feel more inclined to getting a pre-nuptial agreement the second time. I don't recall ever speaking to a divorcee who thought the settlement was fair, even when speaking to both sides.
That's why I think we could see a good number of second (and third and fourth...) marriages prepared with these agreements, as the pain is remembered and the more practical sides considered.
Indeed, Harvey Nicholls in Manchester has already started offering a free pre-nuptial legal consultation for brides-to-be. That may be little more than a publicity stunt to get a share of the headlines on this story, but we can't rule out the possibility that these will become more commonplace. Before long, we could have Tesco offering pre-nuptial agreements alongside its wills.
Children come first
One aspect that the court made very clear, and which is consistent with all divorce cases, is that children come first. No pre-nuptial agreement can be used to prevent children from being adequately supported. On the other hand, perhaps the pre-nuptial agreement will be the decider when it comes to who gets which car, pet or the Nintendo Wii.
It's a delicate business
In my view, the main thing holding back pre-nuptial agreements will likely be the difficulty of breaching the question.
I don't know how one goes about asking one's partner for a pre-nuptial agreement. 'Hey baby, I'm planning on proposing some time soon, but I need your written assurance that I can keep all my money if we divorce. Can you make a solicitor's appointment on Wednesday afternoon?'
That might have saved the lives of Romeo and Juliet, or Pyramus and Thisbe, if one of them had thought to ask it before things got too far, but their stories probably wouldn't have ended a great deal more happily, and surely more abruptly.
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Where I live at the moment, Germany, there are massive tax breaks for married couples. I thought carefully about how to convey this fantastic news to my girlfriend. (I'm a finance journalist; it's in my nature.) I brought up the fact that married couples in our situation pay €10,000 less a year in taxes, but she just nodded in vague interest. Her eyes didn't light up like I'm sure mine did when I learned this fact, so I knew to change my subject and talk about the lovely new curtains we'd bought instead.
That time I got away safely, if not richer, but bringing up marriage for tax reasons is one thing and enquiring about a contract to protect your assets in case your partner is a money-grabbing liar (or so it may come across) is another altogether.
However, money is as emotive and as powerful a force as love but, unlike love, money can still be an emotive and powerful force even if we have little of it. If those going into their second marriages lead the way, these agreements may become more accepted and less of a romance killer.
Just as we've got used to paying 12.5% tips in restaurants as standard instead of 10% (who would ever have thought that ten years ago?) we could end up with millions of marriages being settled on pre-agreed terms.
Which means Russell Brand may one day kick himself... or, if he doesn't, Katy Perry might!
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