In dividing the £5 million assets of an 18-year marriage between a top lawyer and the mother of his four teenage children, the High Court has reiterated that pre-nuptial agreements have legal effect in England and Wales – if they are reasonable.
The husband, a Dutch national and a solicitor in a ‘magic circle’ firm, and his English wife had each made proposals as to how their wealth should be divided which the Court found were unreasonable. He placed heavy reliance on a ‘pre-nup’ signed on the eve of their marriage and she argued that she should be compensated for having given up her own high-flying legal career to take on a full-time mother’s role.
The pre-nup, amongst other things, preserved the parties’ individual ownership of assets that they brought into the marriage and provided for equal division of wealth acquired whilst they were together. Although the agreement was silent on the issue of maintenance, the Court found that its terms were reasonable and had ‘little doubt that the wife knew exactly what she was signing up to’.
The Court found that it was fair to give effect to the pre-nup, which was signed in Holland under Dutch law. The wife’s compensation claim in respect of the sacrifice of her career to the needs of her family was rejected as speculative in that she had ‘no appreciable track record’ by the time she gave up work.
In reaching a fair division, the Court, amongst other things, directed the transfer of the family home to the wife, subject to a £600,000 mortgage, and ordered the husband to pay her a £120,000 lump sum. The husband’s pension and annuity would be equally divided and he would assume responsibility for the ex-couple’s joint debts. He was also directed to pay the wife maintenance of £10,620 a month for an extendable five-year period and to cover child maintenance and education costs.