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Lockdown Love: Marriage and Premarital Agreements

UK National Marriage Week is coming up from 11th to 17th May. Yet, at this current time in the UK, you cannot get married or register a civil partnership because of the COVID-19 rules. Weddings traditionally are booked to take place months in advance, with all the attendant preparation that needs to be carried out. All the couples whose weddings are now on hold will of course enjoy all the more the celebrating of their big day when the lockdown is over. National Marriage Week may well focus people’s minds on whether this is the right time to make the ultimate romantic commitment.

Lockdown can be the ultimate test for couples who are self-isolating together. It is a great test to a relationship if love flourishes under these unique and very testing circumstances. There will no doubt be a large number of couples who will decide to take things forward and get married or enter a civil partnership after the lockdown, to cement and celebrate the success of their relationship.

Self-isolation may also mean that couples will consider and discuss their finances frankly and in more detail than before. This may be a result of one party struggling with income, or if they have been furloughed under the government scheme. In any event a frank discussion on finances including what could happen with financial provision in the future, is always prudent, wise and certainly shows a high level of trust and confidence in each other.

Some couples will decide to take legal advice and enter pre-marital or pre-civil partnership agreements. These have been steadily increasing in England and Wales over the past years as public awareness grows as to what they can offer, and couples are taking the initiative and planning, as with insurance, for a “what if” scenario in the event that the relationship does not endure. When asked to advise on a premarital agreement, solicitor and Head of the Family Department Jacqueline Major gives these scenarios as key situations where such advice and such agreements are recommended and can be useful:

  • Where the wealth of the parties is unequal
  • There are significant inheritance prospects or one person may benefit from gifts from their family
  • There is a potential for future wealth such as from trust funds
  • There are assets that one party wishes to ring fence which were acquired prior to the marriage
  • For a second (or further) marriage where a party has assets derived from the first marriage and especially if there are children of that prior relationship
  • There are family businesses
  • There are a lot of existing debts
  • Where the parties have had an agreement drawn up in other jurisdictions and need an identical agreement in England and Wales

Will such an agreement be binding? A common question. Premarital agreements are not legally binding in England and Wales however, if properly drafted, they can be fully taken into account by a court following the breakdown of a relationship. Legal advice is highly recommended as these agreements have to be drafted to properly for them to be as good as binding i.e. fully taken into account. A premarital agreement can last for the length of the marriage and indeed, as with insurance, may never be needed. If the relationship does break down, the court will look at whether there has been a significant change in circumstances since the agreement was entered into. If this is the case, whilst the agreement may not be fully taken into account, it is still useful to show the intentions of the parties at the time it was entered. However, a change in circumstances can mean that a court will intervene to ensure that the basic needs of a party are met and any children are provided for. A change in circumstances could include the following:

  • The arrival of children
  • Unexpected windfall or loss
  • Loss of employment
  • Health problems

As far as possible the premarital agreement should cater for the foreseeable future and should demonstrate what you and your partner consider to be a fair division of the assets should the relationship break down.

Talking about entering into such an agreement and actually taking the steps to have an agreement drafted and in place is not as much fun as other aspects of preparing for a wedding or civil partnership. It is a great way though to establish intimacy and trust – and honesty – about money. To loved-up couples in lockdown times who successfully come out the other end of what is the most challenging time since the Second World War, you can further strengthen your relationship by having such discussions before happily looking forward to tying the knot together.

Jacqueline Major is a Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen and is Head of our Family Department. To talk us about pre-marital or pre-civil partnership agreements, call us today on 0330 822 3451 or contact us online.