An interesting piece of research commissioned by the Marriage Foundation has confirmed that pre-nups are on the rise. For couples entering their first marriage, about one in five will now have signed one.
The prevalence of pre-nups varies between social groups and is impacted by the earnings of the couple. Spouses in "higher managerial" roles, are more likely to sign an agreement, as are couples who earn roughly the same, or couples where the wife earns more. Interestingly (and encouragingly) couples who attend marriage preparation classes are more likely to sign one. Such classes are pragmatic in their approach and encourage couples to think about some basic points - will they jointly own their home, will they have a joint bank account, will one of them give up work if they have a child?
As a family lawyer I have long been in favour of these classes, believing that many of the issues that arise later in a marriage (particularly around money) should have been considered at the outset to make sure that the couple were "on the same page". Historically concerns have been raised about making divorce too easy. My view has always been that there should be more structure and thought applied before the creation of the marriage, with parties asked to talk about some of the fundamental issues that so often crop up in a family lawyer’s workload. Romantic, possibly not. Realistic, most certainly.
Encouragingly, the research suggests that having a pre-nup in place may be "slightly protective of marriage", and that signing a pre-nup is not "akin to organising the divorce in advance" as may have been the historical view. These are indeed positive findings. Pre-nups will never be for everyone but even considering one can prompt some useful and frank exchanges about how things will be done within the marriage. Pre-nups can be very varied in their content, from the very simple, to the hugely complex. They can also be in place for a limited time or they could last indefinitely. Decisions about what is right for you would depend on your circumstances. What is right for a young couple starting out in life will be very different for a mature couple entering into a second marriage, who may have children from previous relationships to consider and protect.
If you have any questions about pre-nups, please contact Nicola Harries who heads up the family team.