April 2, 2015

Why £2m divorce battle puts post-nups in spotlight

A High Court judge has upheld the terms of a post-nuptial agreement drawn up by a multi-millionaire property tycoon and his former wife after they married.

The decision highlights both the value of such arrangements and the importance of taking the right legal advice to draw up robust ’post-nups’ that will stand up to scrutiny in court.

Deputy High Court Judge Nicolas Cusworth QC threw out a claim by Caroline Hopkins for a further £2 million from her ex-husband William.  The couple, both in their 60s, married more than 30 years after starting an affair, but separated in 2011 just three years after tying the knot.

Under the post-nup drawn up shortly after their wedding, Caroline Hopkins would receive two properties, £350,000 and a share of Mr Hopkins’s pension. At the court hearing Mrs Hopkins, who received ‘copious volumes of legal advice’ before signing, claimed that she had been ‘bullied and badgered’ into the arrangement.

However the judge declared: “I do not find it to be a dishonest document.  I find that it was entered into freely by the wife, and with full appreciation of its implications.”

Like pre-nuptial agreements, a post-nup (agreed after a marriage or civil partnership) sets out how property, finance and other assets are to be divided if a couple split up.

A post-nup can be drawn up at any time and is increasingly popular with older couples who may have been married before, and who might have dependent children or who have brought property or assets to the marriage.

In England and Wales pre and post-nuptial arrangements are not legally binding, however as the Hopkins’s case shows, courts often uphold agreements that are well drawn-up and where there is no evidence of one party being coerced into signing. Therefore it is critical that both partners take expert independent legal advice before signing on the dotted line. If a couple can’t agree on the terms then a family lawyer may suggest that they use mediation to resolve their differences.

Following the announcement that the over 55s can take cash out of their pension pots from April 6, we may see more older couples drawing up these agreements to help protect their financial futures in the event of divorce.

If you have any questions or comments about pre or post-nuptial agreements, or any divorce related matter, please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.