Taking the Acrimony out of Alimony


While alimony is generally called maintenance in the English legal system, pre-nuptial agreements (pre-nups) can be an effective way to ensure parties are on the same page when entering a marriage. It can also help keep things more civil if a marriage breaks down. The Katrin Radmacher case in 2010 and the more recent proposals by the law commission have started a trend whereby many more are considering what a pre-nup can do for them.

Premarital Agreement

Legal Cases

Firstly, we had the Katrin Radmacher divorce case in 2010. Here, Miss Radmacher, the paper industry heiress, was being pursued for a substantial portion of her £100 million net worth. What's important here wasn't the vast amount of money involved. Rather it was the Court of Appeal who decided in this case that the pre-nup they'd agreed to could be relied upon on the basis that it was a:

  • Fair contract
  • Both parties were fully aware of each others financial positions
  • Both parties were fully aware of the implications of the pre-nup

The legal decision stated that 'decisive weight' should be given to a pre-nuptial agreement. This means that while a pre-nup does not automatically apply when a couple divorce, the courts will give any agreement great consideration when deciding on what will happen to the property and the finances of a divorcing couple.

Proposed Changes

Secondly, we've had the law commission proposals. The law commission are an agency who give the government advice on legal reform. Their suggestion is that pre-nups would essentially become a legal contract, but shouldn't allow parties to contract out of their responsibilities for one anothers financial needs or their children.

If the proposals came to law, the contracts would be legally binding, and the courts would have to follow this. This is different to the current position whereby the courts will simply take them into consideration.

The law commission can however often be ignored by parliament, and so the best advice we can give in relation to the proposals is 'watch this space'.

Expert Observation

Emma Pearmaine, Partner and Head of Family Law at Simpson Millar LLP, commented that "We have seen a huge influx in the amount of people asking us about pre-nuptial agreements. The people we have spoken to understand the differences between family law in the UK and that in the USA. Despite not yet being fully legally binding, many are beginning to realise the benefits of such an arrangement, without being a millionaire."

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