The rewritten rules of marriage and divorce

By Frances Gibb, Legal Editor. The Times.
May 25, 2006

ALL couples were advised last night to sign prenuptial agreements before getting married after a landmark ruling that gives wives much bigger divorce settlements.

Family lawyers said that wealthy young men and women would be better off not marrying at all after Britain’s highest court ruled that a wife may be entitled to half the assets created during even a short marriage.

NI_MPU('middle');In the most important judgment on divorce for more than 20 years the law lords ruled that women who sacrifice careers to bring up children and look after the home should be compensated and may claim a share of their husband’s future income.

Ruling on two test cases they said that Melissa Miller, 36, could keep the £5 million that she was awarded from the £17.5 million fortune of her husband Alan, 42, a City fund manager; and that Julia McFarlane, 46, was entitled to £250,000 a year from her husband Kenneth, 46, a tax specialist, for as long as she needs it.

Emma Hatley, a partner at Withers, which advised Mrs Miller, said: “The ruling will serve as a deterrent to marriage. But prenuptial agreements will provide a good degree of protection — and I predict it will not be long before they are made binding. It’s not if, it’s when.”

Jeremy Levison, Mr McFarlane’s lawyer, said he would advise wealthy young men not to marry. “It will have the effect of discouraging successful guys from getting married at all. You get these young women, in their thirties, the body clock starts ticking, and they are looking for someone to have their babies — then the marriage breaks up after a short while. I am already advising these kinds of men that they would be better off not marrying.”

Failing that, he would urge prenuptial agreements. “My advice is: 1, don’t marry; 2, if you do make sure your other half is as wealthy as you are and 3, do a prenuptial agreement and keep your fingers crossed.”

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