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Are Prenups Legal in the UK?

At present, prenuptial agreements are not technically legally binding in England and Wales. However, courts may take them into consideration, as long as certain safeguards are met. In Scotland, prenuptial agreements are regarded as legally binding provided that they are fair and reasonable at the time they are entered into.

What is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement, commonly known as a prenup, is a formal contract entered into by a couple before they marry or enter into a civil partnership. This agreement outlines how assets and finances will be divided in the event of a separation, divorce, or death.

Typically, a prenuptial agreement will include:

  • Division of Property: Details on how property and assets acquired before and during the marriage will be allocated.
  • Financial Responsibilities: Clarifications on the financial obligations of each party during the marriage, such as bills, debts, and other financial commitments.
  • Inheritance Rights: Provisions for children from previous relationships and how inheritance will be handled.
  • Spousal Support: Terms regarding alimony or maintenance payments, if applicable.

Prenuptial agreements are designed to provide clarity and protection for both parties, ensuring that each person’s assets are safeguarded and potential disputes are minimised should the relationship end. They are particularly useful for individuals with significant personal wealth, business interests, or those entering a second marriage.

Legal Status of Prenups in the UK

In the United Kingdom, the legal status of prenuptial agreements is complex. Unlike some countries where prenups are automatically legally binding, in the UK, they do not have statutory recognition. This means that prenuptial agreements are not automatically enforceable by the courts. However, they are increasingly being taken into consideration during divorce proceedings.

Historically, UK courts were hesitant to uphold prenuptial agreements, viewing them as contrary to public policy and the notion that marriage is a lifelong commitment. However, attitudes have shifted in recent years, particularly following the landmark case of Radmacher v Granatino in 2010. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that prenuptial agreements could be given significant weight, provided certain conditions were met.

Key Points from Radmacher v Granatino:

  • Autonomy of the Parties: The court emphasised respecting the autonomy of the parties to arrange their financial affairs as they see fit.
  • Fairness: The agreement should not be unfair or leave one party in a position of need.
  • Informed Consent: Both parties must have entered into the agreement freely and with full understanding of its implications.

Conditions for Consideration:

For a prenuptial agreement to be considered by a UK court, several conditions must be satisfied:

  • Full Disclosure: Both parties must fully disclose their financial circumstances to each other before the agreement is signed.
  • Independent Legal Advice: Each party should seek independent legal advice to ensure they fully understand the terms and implications of the agreement.
  • No Duress or Undue Influence: The agreement must be entered into voluntarily, without pressure or coercion.
  • Fair and Reasonable Terms: The terms of the agreement must be fair and reasonable at the time of signing and at the time of enforcement.

While prenuptial agreements are not legally binding in the UK, the courts will consider them as one of the factors in financial settlement decisions during divorce proceedings. They are more likely to be upheld if they meet the conditions outlined above and if they do not prejudice the needs of any children of the marriage or civil partnership.

How to Create a Legally Sound Prenup

Creating a prenuptial agreement that is likely to be upheld by UK courts requires careful planning and adherence to specific guidelines. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Open and Honest Discussion

Couples should begin by having an open and honest discussion about their financial situations and expectations. This conversation should cover assets, debts, income, and financial goals. Both parties need to be transparent to ensure the agreement is based on accurate information.

Full Financial Disclosure

Both parties must provide a full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances. This includes detailing all assets, liabilities, income, and any other relevant financial information. Full disclosure is critical for the agreement to be considered fair and valid.

Independent Legal Advice

Each party should obtain independent legal advice to understand the implications of the prenuptial agreement fully. This helps ensure that both parties are entering into the agreement voluntarily and with a complete understanding of their rights and obligations.

Fair and Reasonable Terms

The terms of the prenuptial agreement must be fair and reasonable. This means that the agreement should not disproportionately favour one party over the other. It should also take into account the needs of any children and not leave one party in a position of significant financial hardship.


The timing of signing the prenuptial agreement is also crucial. It should be signed well in advance of the wedding day to avoid any suggestion of duress or undue pressure. Ideally, it should be finalised at least 28 days before the marriage.

Regular Review and Updating

Circumstances can change over time, so it is advisable to review and update the prenuptial agreement periodically. Major life events such as the birth of children, significant changes in income, or the acquisition of new assets may necessitate revisions to the agreement.

By following these steps, couples can create a prenuptial agreement that is fair, transparent, and more likely to be upheld by the courts. Seeking professional legal advice throughout the process is essential to ensure all legal requirements are met and the agreement is robust.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Prenups

Advantages of Prenups

Clarity and Protection of Assets: One of the primary benefits of a prenuptial agreement is that it clearly outlines the division of assets and financial responsibilities, providing both parties with certainty and protection. This is particularly important for individuals with significant personal wealth, family businesses, or inherited assets.

Reduction of Conflict: By having a prenuptial agreement in place, couples can minimise potential disputes and acrimony in the event of a divorce. The agreement serves as a predefined plan, reducing the need for lengthy and contentious negotiations.

Financial Security and Planning: Prenups allow couples to manage their financial expectations and responsibilities from the outset of their marriage. This can help in planning for the future, including setting provisions for spousal support and the financial well-being of any children from previous relationships.

Preservation of Family Wealth: For those entering into a marriage with substantial family wealth or business interests, a prenuptial agreement can help ensure these assets remain protected and within the family, preventing them from being divided in a divorce settlement.

Disadvantages of Prenups

Perceived Lack of Trust: One of the main criticisms of prenuptial agreements is that they can be perceived as a sign of distrust or a lack of commitment to the marriage. Some may view them as planning for divorce before the marriage has even begun, which can be seen as unromantic.

Potential Unfairness: If not carefully drafted, a prenuptial agreement can potentially result in unfairness or imbalance, especially if one party is left in a financially vulnerable position. It is crucial that both parties seek independent legal advice to ensure the agreement is fair and equitable.

Complexity and Cost: Drafting a prenuptial agreement can be a complex and potentially costly process, requiring detailed financial disclosure and legal advice. This might be seen as an unnecessary expense, particularly for couples without significant assets.

Change in Circumstances: Over time, the circumstances of a marriage can change significantly. A prenuptial agreement drafted years before may no longer be relevant or fair, potentially leading to disputes if the couple divorces many years later.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

Myth 1: Prenups are Only for the Wealthy

A common misconception is that prenuptial agreements are only necessary for the wealthy. While it is true that individuals with significant assets often use prenups to protect their wealth, they can be beneficial for anyone. Prenups can provide clarity and protection for a wide range of financial situations, including small businesses, property ownership, or safeguarding future inheritance. They help ensure that both parties have a clear understanding of their financial rights and responsibilities.

Myth 2: Prenups Mean You Don’t Trust Your Partner

Another prevalent myth is that prenuptial agreements indicate a lack of trust between partners. In reality, a prenup can be seen as a practical financial planning tool. By discussing and agreeing on financial matters beforehand, couples can build a stronger foundation of trust and mutual understanding.

The process of creating a prenup can encourage open communication and reduce the potential for future conflicts.

Myth 3: Prenups are Unromantic and Doom the Marriage

Some people believe that discussing a prenuptial agreement is unromantic and may even doom the marriage. However, addressing financial issues early in the relationship can prevent misunderstandings and disagreements later on. It is important to approach the topic sensitively and focus on the practical benefits. Far from dooming a marriage, a prenup can provide security and peace of mind, allowing couples to enter their marriage with confidence.

Myth 4: Prenups are Always Upheld by Courts

While prenups are increasingly recognised by UK courts, they are not automatically enforceable. For a prenuptial agreement to be upheld, it must meet certain criteria, such as full financial disclosure, independent legal advice, and fairness.

Courts will consider the circumstances of the agreement’s creation and whether it remains fair and reasonable at the time of enforcement. It is essential to draft the prenup carefully to increase its chances of being upheld.

Alternatives to Prenups

While prenuptial agreements are a popular choice for many couples, they are not the only option for managing financial arrangements and protecting assets. Here are some alternatives to consider:

Postnuptial Agreements

A postnuptial agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement, but it is entered into after the marriage or civil partnership has already taken place. Like prenups, postnups can outline the division of assets and financial responsibilities in the event of a separation or divorce.

They can be useful if circumstances change during the marriage, such as a significant increase in wealth or the start of a new business.

Cohabitation Agreements

For couples who choose to live together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership, a cohabitation agreement can provide legal protection.

This agreement outlines the financial arrangements and responsibilities of each partner, as well as what will happen to shared assets if the relationship ends. Cohabitation agreements can cover property ownership, division of household bills, and support for any children.

Trusts and Wills

Trusts and wills can be used to protect assets and ensure they are distributed according to your wishes. Setting up a trust can provide for children or other beneficiaries while keeping assets separate from marital property. Updating your will to reflect your current wishes is also crucial, particularly if you have remarried or have children from a previous relationship.

Declarations of Trust

A declaration of trust, also known as a deed of trust, is a legal document that records the financial arrangements between joint owners of a property. It is particularly useful for unmarried couples who purchase property together. The declaration can specify the proportion of the property each person owns and outline how proceeds from a sale will be divided.

Author – Julie Condliffe

Julie Condliffe is a four-time bestselling author, successful property investor and an award winning solicitor. She is the founding partner of Creative Legals.