Last Christmas I gave you my heart!

Article by Victoria Aked, Family Law Solicitor 

The festive season now surpasses St Valentine’s Day as the most popular time of the year for popping that all-important question.  For many, Santa Claus will be surprising those on his “Nice List” with a proposal of marriage/civil partnership this Christmas morning.

Once your partner has accepted your proposal (fingers crossed!) it is entirely natural in the days and weeks following that you will experience anxiety about this new next stage in your life. It is crucial to communicate clearly and honestly with your partner and address many important questions before you say “I do”.  These should include discussions about finances, where you want to live, how your career may be affected by marriage/civil partnership and whether you want children and how you wish to raise them.

For richer, for poorer…

When entering into a marriage/civil partnership, parties may bring with them assets and financial resources accrued before the relationship.  Prenuptial Agreements are a valuable tool in preserving both individual and family wealth in the event that the marriage/civil partnerships breaks down. They should not however be considered the reserve of the rich and powerful. Prenuptial Agreements can regulate the position in respect of modest property assets, business assets, inheritance and even the arrangements for your four-legged friend. It can also include provisions for a disadvantaged party following separation. While not enforceable as a matter of right, if matters between the parties become contested, the Court is likely to take a view that the Agreement should be given effect provided that it is fair to hold the parties to what was agreed.

Entering into a Prenuptial Agreement does not mean your marriage/civil partnership is “doomed” from the start. What it does mean is that both parties have sat down with their partner and understood what they are bringing into the marriage/civil partnership and what assets they would like to retain/how a party may be provided for upon its dissolution. It is hoped that a frank conversation had at the outset will prevent possibly acrimonious and costly dialogue occurring at some point later in time.

With all my worldly goods I thee endow…

When it comes to the division of assets (most notably property) and whether you have an interest in such upon the breakdown of a relationship, engaged couples (and up to three years after if the engagement has come to an end) benefit from additional protections generally reserved for those that are married (the legal position is unclear for civil partnerships). This is in addition to the options available to cohabiting couples who have not been engaged.

This means that the Court is not only able to determine the shares a party has in an asset but also whether the asset should be sold if the parties are not able to separate by agreement.

With this ring, I thee wed…

“2 months’ salary showed the future Mrs Smith what the future will be like.”  This tagline, from a hugely successful De Beers marketing campaign in the 1980s, went on to demonstrate how highly suggestible the market was.  De Beers ostensibly linked love and devotion with the amount spent on an engagement ring.  According to The National Wedding Survey 2019 conducted by, the engagement ring is the fourth largest expense in terms of wedding expenditure after venue hire, the honeymoon and food.  What happens to the ring therefore if the engagement comes to an end?

The answer is that the engagement ring is an absolute gift i.e.not required to be returned to the giver, unless it can be shown that the ring was given on a condition, either expressly or impliedly, that it should be returned if the marriage/civil partnership does not go ahead.  If the engagement ring has descended through the generations of a family, for example, it is likely that the Court will find that it was implied that the ring should be returned to the giver.  Again, having an open discussion about this may avoid unnecessary upset down the line.

'til death us do part…

Marriage/Civil Partnership has the effect of cancelling a previously made will. If you have made a will and do not update it before your marriage/civil partnership, the arrangements you have made for your estate may not take effect.  To overcome this, your will can be drafted “in contemplation of marriage or civil partnership to X”.

Contact Victoria if you wish to explore any issues raised in this article.  

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