By Heather Faucher | Posted on August 18, 2009 | Filed Under Prenups
British law, which generally doesn’t recognize prenuptial contracts, is going to have to start taking them a whole lot more seriously now. An appeals court judge recently strengthened their status in the Britain when he ruled that a German heiress’ prenuptial agreement with her husband should influence how the couple’s assets are divided. Lord Justice Mathew Thorpe, who presided over the case of Katrin Radmacher and her ex-husband Nicolas Granatino, stated that the current low status of prenuptial agreements under British law reflects the moral and legal values of earlier generations.
“It does not sufficiently recognize the rights of autonomous adults to govern their future financial relationship by agreement in an age when marriage is not generally regarded as a sacrament and divorce is a statistical commonplace,” he said.
Thorpe overruled a lower court’s ruling that awarded Radmacher’s former husband Granatino 5.85 million pounds ($9.6 million US). The judge reduced Radmacher’s obligation to her ex-husband to approximately 1 million pounds ($1.6 million US) in place of maintenance and a 2.5 million pound ($3.6 million US) loan for a house that will be returned when the couple’s youngest daughter, now aged 6, reaches 22 years. Radmacher also consented to pay off 700,000 pounds ($1.15 million US) in debts that her ex-husband owes.
The couple’s prenuptial agreement stated that Granatino would receive none of Radmacher’s fortune in the event they divorced. The agreement would have been enforceable in Germany, where they signed it, but the couple divorced in Britain instead, a country with a history of courts refusing to enforce such agreements. Thorpe wrote in his ruling that Britain is “in danger of isolation in the wider common law world if we do not give greater force and effect to ante-nuptial contracts.”
Radmacher previously argued that her former husband earned plenty of money as a banker to easily support himself, so the prenuptial agreement should hold firm. But Granatino quit his job in 2003 in order to obtain a doctorate in biotechnology from Oxford University. The original trial judge, Florence Baron, pointed out several factors in Granatino’s favor: he had not had independent counsel before signing the prenuptial agreement, the marriage produced two children, and ruling out support for the husband would be patently unfair if he was genuinely in need.
Radmacher said in a statement that to her, the case was about a broken promise.
“When we met and married, Nicolas and I were broadly on an equal footing financially. He, too, is an heir to a multimillion-pound fortune and, when we met, was an investment banker earning up to 330,000 pounds ($520,000) a year,” she said. “The agreement was at my father’s insistence as he wanted to protect my inheritance. This is perfectly normal in our countries of origin, France and Germany.” And, on the up side, she said that her daughters were now assured to live comfortably when residing with Granatino.
Britain’s Law Commission is said to be currently reviewing the status of prenuptial agreements, though it’s not expected to draw up any conclusions for at least three years.
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