Family Law update: March 2018

Family Law update: March 2018

A Royal Pre-Nup?

The rumours have started that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are having a Pre-Nuptial Agreement drawn up. No idea what may be in it and Clapham & Collinge have not yet been instructed! This news has been met with a lot of interest and a realism about the need for such a document.

Apparently Prince Harry is worth about £30 million and Meghan about £4 million. Not entirely therefore a financial "level playing field" and exactly the type of relationship that cries out for a Pre-Nuptial Agreement. Of course everyone hopes that their marriage will last forever but all marriages (including royal ones) are not guaranteed to do so. A report in the Daily Telegraph from December 2017 suggested that enquiries about Pre-Nuptial Agreements in this country had risen by about 70% in the last decade. Perhaps more staggeringly the same survey revealed that apparently about 21% of engaged couples who enquired about a Pre-Nuptial Agreement called off their wedding after speaking to their lawyers!

Pre-Nuptial Agreements remain not guaranteed to be legally enforceable but increasingly are being taken into account. Whether you are talking about combined assets of £34 million or more modest figures does it not make sense to try to safeguard and ring fence assets that have been built up before a marriage? Increasingly relationships and marriages are not as straightforward as they were in the past. For example second or third marriages are now more common than they were a generation ago. Inherited wealth and money provided by parents can mean that when a couple get married their financial position is unequal. Should they not have the ability (and business acumen) to consider the eventualities and agree what would happen if they do divorce given that now nearly one in two marriages end in divorce? Does that throw cold water on the romance or is it just realism? So whether you are royalty or not a Pre-Nuptial Agreement as part of the wedding plan is becoming increasingly standard practice. Of course if Clapham & Collinge were instructed to deal with the Pre-Nuptial Agreement for either Prince Harry or Meghan Markle we could not tell you anyway due to confidentiality!

Marriage – Lite or Just Adapting to a Changed World

Currently Civil Partnerships are only available to same sex couples. Since the introduction of same sex marriage the debate has been taking place as to what should happen to Civil Partnerships. Should they be abolished or should they be available to opposite sex couples? The Home Office is now reviewing the operation of Civil Partnerships.

Opposite sex couples who do not want to have a traditional marriage have argued that there is now inequality in the law as they do not have the choice to become Civil Partners. The plans are to publish a consultation on this to determine the effect of changes on other areas of legislation such as divorce law. Within this other changes are being considered such as the marriage "register" itself being replaced by a new single page "marriage schedule". Couples might no longer be given a "marriage certificate" on the day of the wedding and a single electronic register will replace the current system of registers being held in churches.

The proposed reforms are within a back bench private members' bill in the House of Commons that the Government unexpectedly announced it was going to support. Tim Loughton who introduced the reforms said "we need to recognise that our society is changing and we need to adapt in order to promote family stability – in whatever form – to provide a continuum that gives children the best and most stable start in life." Colin Hart the Chairman of the Coalition for Marriage Campaign Group said extending Civil Partnerships to opposite sex couples will "profoundly undermine marriage. It will be seen as a low commitment form of the institution – a sort of marriage lite."

Would You Pay Extra Tax To Fund Legal Aid?

There has been a lot of recent national debate about whether everyone should accept an increase in their income tax to better fund the NHS system. When legal aid was cut some years ago for the majority of people this was done purely on financial grounds. In essence there was not enough money to go round and so choices had to be made. There were stringent cuts in the old family legal aid system now leaving many people not being able to afford to take advice from a Solicitor.

It does seem that whatever political party will be in Government in the foreseeable future it is very unlikely that the legal aid system will change. Certainly there is nothing on the agenda of any of the parties to suggest that money will be set aside to resurrect the old legal aid system for civil work and in particular family advice. Would you agree to pay more income tax to be able to fund the divorce of somebody who financially cannot afford to pay for it themselves? Whilst this is simplistic in essence that is one of the choices that the Government has to make.

The emphasis therefore seems to be on who needs protection or support in priority to somebody else. Domestic violence has been identified as a key area where someone who is financially eligible should have legal aid for Family Proceedings but where do you draw the line? What about Proceedings that deal with children and their long-term future where there is no domestic violence – would you agree to pay more income tax so that those people can get legal aid?

Commentary by Neale Grearson, Head of Family Department.

To find out more or discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our specialist Family Law Solicitors can help. Our advice is bespoke, confidential and totally designed around you, helping you come to the best conclusion for both you and your family.

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*This article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice.