A person signing a postnuptial agreement
Divorce  |  Marriage

What is a postnuptial agreement?

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Walker Family Law
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The law, as we all know, imposes a set of rules to determine financial settlements on divorce. Whilst these rules will not necessarily result in an entirely predictable settlement, the general principles that they follow will of course have a broad bearing upon the outcome.

A person signing a postnuptial agreement

But not all couples will want such an outcome, should their marriage break down.

Those couples may therefore enter into an agreement, setting out how they want their finances to be dealt with should they divorce.

Such agreements are most commonly entered into before the marriage, and are therefore known as ‘prenuptial’, or ‘pre-marital’, agreements.

But what is a postnuptial agreement? It is also possible to enter into an agreement after the marriage has taken place – a ‘postnuptial’, or ‘post-marital’, agreement.

Obtaining a postnuptial agreement

There is really very little difference in the process of obtaining prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

In both cases the parties will have to first make full disclosure of their means, so that each party knows where they stand, and is able to make an informed decision as to the fairness of any agreement.

Both parties should also take expert legal advice before signing the agreement, or at least be given the opportunity to seek such advice.

And the agreement should really be drawn up by expert family lawyers, to ensure that it properly reflects the terms agreed between the parties, and is likely to be upheld by the court (more on which in a moment).

The only real difference in the process between obtaining prenuptial and postnuptial agreements is that in the case of the former there should be a period between the signing of the agreement and the marriage, say 28 days, to ensure that there is no suggestion that either party was under any compulsion to sign the agreement.

Are postnuptial agreements legally binding?

Obviously, a postnuptial agreement is of little value if the court will not uphold it should a divorce take place. Advice should therefore always be taken as to whether the courts are likely to uphold the agreement.

In England and Wales prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are treated in essentially the same way by the courts. What follows, therefore, applies equally to both types of agreement.

Unlike in many other countries such agreements are not automatically binding here. In fact, until relatively recently the courts here could ignore them entirely.

That all changed in 2010, when the Supreme Court held that the court should give effect to a nuptial agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications, unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement.

The effect of this ruling is that, whilst the court still retains the power to order a completely different settlement, in most cases it is likely to uphold the agreement.

What if I no longer want to be bound by the agreement?

That still leaves one question: what if one party no longer wishes to be bound by the agreement? Can a postnuptial agreement be voided?

The answer to this really depends upon whether the agreement was fair in the first place, and whether it remains fair in the present circumstances which may, of course, be quite different from the circumstances prevailing when the agreement was entered into.

It is not entirely unusual that when the divorce takes place one party wants the agreement upheld and the other party does not.

In such a case the court will have to decide whether the agreement should be upheld.

To do this it will look at the circumstances surrounding the signing of the agreement looking, for example, at whether one party pressured the other to sign the agreement, in which case the court will obviously not uphold the agreement.

It will also look at the present circumstances, to see whether there has been some significant change, such as to make the agreement no longer fair. For example, the couple may since have had children, and that may have rendered the agreement unfair because one party gave up their career to look after the children, and is therefore considerably worse off financially than they were when they signed the agreement.

How can we help?

For further information regarding Postnuptial Agreements, see the Postnuptial Agreements page.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce law, child-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.