Prenups Today: 1 in 5 Couples Sign Before Marriage

24 September 2021 Blog Donna Goodsell

Recent research has shown that in the 1970s prenuptial agreements were a factor in approximately 1.5% of UK marriages. By the turn of the century, this figure had risen substantially. Since 2000, around one in five (20%) first marriages have commenced with a prenup in place.

These figures, published by the Marriage Foundation in August 2021, were the result of research carried out among 2,027 "ever married UK adults" spanning genders, age, UK region, and each decade since the 1960s. The study aimed to establish how many couples are signing prenups, the characteristics of those who seek and agree a prenup, and whether prenups increase the risk of divorce.

Who signs a prenup?

The earliest prenuptial agreement among the respondents was signed in 1970 and was one of only five signed in this decade by members of the cohort.

For those who married in the 1980s this figure rose to 5% and in the 1990s to 8%. However, in the year 2019, 44 people signed a prenup ahead of their wedding that year and this represented 31% of that specific group.

By the 2010s, more than 20% of the respondents who were married in that decade had a prenup in place.

Looking at the 2000s specifically, the uptake of prenups was most prevalent among the "Higher Managerial" group, in which 44% of respondents had signed a prenup, and there was a fairly even spread amongst other groups; skilled workers (20%), intermediate (19%), semi-skilled (18) and small employers (16%).

Interestingly, prenups were considerably more common amongst adults who sought marriage preparation in the form of either face-to-face or online courses, or mentoring prior to their wedding ceremony. Of those in the cohort who had undertaken more formal marriage preparation, 64% signed a prenup, while 8% of those who talked with a vicar or celebrant signed a prenup, and for those who undertook no preparation, the figure was 4%.

Does signing a prenup affect the rate of divorce?

The researchers sought to answer this question using logistic regression which showed that, with certain control parameters in place (gender, age when married, decade of marriage, social class, where the couple met, and the reason they married) prenups may be associated with a reduction in the likelihood of divorce in the first ten years of marriage.

However, when other factors are taken into account (the size of the wedding and whether pre-marriage preparation had taken place) the reduction in risk of divorce was cancelled out.

The conclusion of the researchers on this question was that the signing of a prenuptial agreement does not appear to increase the risk of divorce, and may even help to prevent it in some cases.

Should prenuptial agreements be enforceable?

Harry Benson, Research Director at the Marriage Foundation, commented that prenuptial agreements were no longer a "legal curiosity or quirk" meant only for the super-rich; they have now become an "integral part" of marriage preparation for many couples.

Sir Paul Coleridge, founder of Marriage Foundation, writes that traditionalists view prenups as anathema to marriage being a lifelong commitment and presents arguments that they are, in effect, a discussion about the ending of the marriage before it has even begun. However, those who advocate for prenuptial agreements contend that they allow English and Welsh couples the same freedoms as many jurisdiction in the US and EU, where adults have the power to decide their post-divorce finances without interference from the state.

Is a prenuptial agreement right for you?

As the law stands, prenuptial agreements are not automatically legally binding in England and Wales. However, recent case law has shown that courts will take into account the terms of a prenup if certain conditions are met: if the prenup was entered into freely; both parties have received independent legal advice, or the opportunity to do so; and, that they were aware of the implications of the agreement when they signed.

Prenups may be particularly beneficial when the parties are high earners (not necessarily super-rich) and/or when one party has acquired significant assets prior to the marriage and wants to protect them, or if they are likely to inherit.

Arrange a prenuptial agreement in London with Goodsells Family Law

Goodsells family Law is located in Clapham and we are happy to discuss your prenuptial agreement requirements.

We can provide expert advice to help you understand how a prenup can give clarity and certainty for the future, and benefit your particular circumstances.

Call Goodsells Family Law on 020 7622 2221 or complete our online enquiry form.