Article from The Journal

The year 2011 is the year of the royal wedding, with Prince William marrying Kate Middleton on April 29 at Westminster Abbey. A bank holiday has been announced so who is complaining? “Waity Katie” will become a royal bride and the pubs will be allowed to stay open until 1am. Hurrah.

While celebrity gossip columns have been rife with speculation about who will design Kate’s dress and who her bridesmaids will be, the family lawyers of the UK have been speculating as to whether the young couple will be pioneers of the pre-nuptial agreement. Historically, considerations about wealth and dynastic have formed the basis of a royal marriage but the Will-Kate union is different; in purely economic terms it is the merger of old money and new money.

In many European countries, it is normal for newly engaged couples to draw up pre-nuptial agreements. There have even been reports that continental royals such as Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, who married a former estate agent, have opted to sign them.

The speculation has increased after the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in Radmacher v Granatino in October 2010. The wife in this case was a German heiress, worth an estimated £100m, and the husband a French former investment banker.  The parties entered into a pre-nuptial Agreement, which in the event of a breakdown of the marriage, made no financial provision for either party.

The Supreme Court held the pre-nuptial agreement had decisive weight and it would “be natural to infer that parties entering into agreements will intend that effect be given to them”. In other words, pre-nups could now be considered to be binding in the UK legal system. William is heir to a vast fortune – the Queen’s personal wealth is estimated to be about £300m. Kate Middleton’s family own a multi-million pound children’s party business. It may be unromantic to consider a pre-nup but is it advisable? After all, this is the British royal family with dynastic wealth.

Patrick Jephson, the late Princess Diana’s private secretary, said: “This is no ordinary marriage and the last decade has had terrible divorces. You’ve got to be practical. If she was my sister, I’d tell her to get a good pre- nup.”

Of course, both parties hope the marriage will last but even the royal family is subject to our current laws which take into account all the resources of the spouse whether earned or inherited. A marriage in the spotlight may be more prone to difficulties than others and some may say that a pre-nup is a necessity.

The royal divorces of the last 20 years have been damaging to the reputation of the royal family as well as its coffers. Perhaps new laws need to be introduced for those marrying into the royal family as there is so much at risk?

It is true three out of the Queen’s four children have undergone divorce. And in doing so the monarchy has been exposed to minute public scrutiny. But Kate’s parents have remained together for many years and she and William have been together for nine: they have even weathered a brief split and conducted their relationship in a discreet, thoughtful manner. Kate may be from an ordinary, albeit very wealthy background, but “this is no ordinary marriage” as Mr Jephson stated.

They may decide to shun a pre-nup, as Charles did when he married Camilla, but since the Radmacher vs Granatino case they would be wise to consider one in the future. It may be that any legal agreement made regarding the marriage, whether a pre-nup or mid-nup, includes not only clauses about the distribution of wealth but also about contact with the media. Who can forget the Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana? When William gave Kate his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring, he was announcing that Kate is the new people’s princess.

 Written by Joanne Major owner of  Major Family Law, The Divorce and Family Law Specialists, 12 West Road, Ponteland, NE20 9SU. T: 01661 82 45 82 twitter: @majorfamilylaw