From a legal standpoint, marriage is a binding contract for life that imposes obligations in respect of money, property and children. Elizabeth Foster from the Wollens family team explains that understanding the details of this will help you approach your new life on an open and honest footing. You can consider whether a prenuptial agreement is right for you and ensure that your rights and interests are properly protected.
When you marry, your assets and liabilities become shared with your spouse. Even if you divorce, your financial liabilities do not end unless a financial order is made, as marriage is a legal and financial commitment for life.
Understanding this before you marry gives you both the chance to talk about your situation and agree on how you would like to deal with matters in the future.
Legal rights and responsibilities on marriage
If you were to divorce, the starting point for the court is to divide your assets equally. It could be decided that one party should receive more than the other, for example, if they have given up a career to raise children, but you should bear in mind that all of your assets will be considered to be jointly owned and will be shared in some way.
This means that even if you went into the marriage owning substantially more than your partner, such as your own property, or you inherit a large sum of money, these assets would be shared.
Pensions are also taken into account on divorce and can be shared or offset against another asset.
With regard to children, birth mothers and married fathers automatically have parental responsibility, meaning you would be expected to work together to parent them, even if you separate. If you do not end up living with your children, you would be required to pay maintenance to their other parent.
A prenuptial agreement sets out how couples would like matters to be dealt with, should they ever separate. It can include anything you choose, but often deals with the following:
- What will happen to property, to include whether it will be sold, how it will be valued and how sale proceeds will be shared
- How savings will be split, to include money, shares and pensions
- What will happen to an inheritance
- How debts will be dealt with
- How children will be provided for
A prenuptial agreement can be particularly important for couples where one party has considerably more wealth than the other or where one party has children from a prior relationship.
While the agreement is not legally binding, the courts will usually follow it, provided the following apply:
- Both parties have made full disclosure of their assets to each other before signing
- The agreement was drafted by a solicitor or family law expert who can confirm that it was entered into voluntarily
- Both parties have received independent legal advice before signing
- The document was signed at least 28 days before the marriage
- The terms of the agreement provide fairly for each party so that their needs are met
- The needs of any children involved are met and the children are not disadvantaged by the terms of the agreement
Provided there has been no change in circumstances and the agreement would not be unfair to either party, the courts will generally take its provisions into account when making a financial order on divorce.
Putting a prenuptial agreement in place can help you both discuss your financial situation and talk over any potential difficulties upfront. It can give you a level of certainty for the future and prevent misunderstandings and disagreements from arising later on.