Although pre-nuptial agreements are persuasive rather than binding in the British courts, a recent ruling of the High Court on a French ‘pre-nup’ illustrates clearly the current approach of the courts.
It involved a very wealthy French couple who married in France in 1994, having entered into a pre-nuptial agreement. They moved to London in 2007, at which time they were already discussing separation. They separated in February 2008 and informed their children the following July. The wife then commenced divorce proceedings in the UK.
The couple’s decree nisi was granted in 2010, but has not yet been made absolute. The husband contested the commencement of divorce proceedings in the UK, arguing, unsuccessfully, that the divorce should be conducted under French law.
Unusually, the value of the family assets was not in dispute, so when the financial settlement came to be dealt with, it was only the split of the assets that needed to be decided. The family assets amounted to approximately £15 million.
The wife claimed that their assets should be shared equally, with a maintenance agreement for £40,000 per year for each of their three children. The husband argued that the assets should be split according to the terms of the pre-nuptial agreement, with a smaller maintenance payment.
The court ruled that the pre-nuptial agreement should bear weight and that the assets should be divided so as to give the wife a fund sufficient to provide maintenance of £100,000 per annum for life (£2.2 million), together with the assets she had introduced to the marriage and an additional sum (mainly for the purchase of a suitable property) of approximately £4 million.