Paul McCartney must be green with envy. Like many wealthy British celebrities, bankers and heirs, McCartney didn’t have a pre-nuptial agreement (“prenup”) in place when he divorced Heather Mills in 2008 — to the tune of 24.3 million pounds ($39 million). He couldn’t. His native England didn’t allow them.
But that all looks set to change. On Wednesday, a landmark Supreme Court ruling recognized the legal standing of prenuptial agreements for the very first time in England and Wales. While we won’t know until 2012 whether such agreements will be enshrined in British law, this judgment now means that prenups will have decisive weight in divorce courts going forward.
The decision marks a radical shift in British law. A prenup is a contract that typically stipulates how property and other assets will be divided should a marriage end. Traditionally, prenups were seen as contrary to public policy in England and Wales on the basis that they might encourage couples to split up. From 2000 on, the norm was to divide all assets between the spouses on a 50-50 basis, although judges can use discretion in deciding how much to allocate to any one party.
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Image: McConnection – Year 9, number 31 Paul McCartney fanclub Netherlands by Antoon Foobar via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.