What does marriage mean to you?
With the wedding season approaching, many of us will find our social calendars brimming with vows for the remainder of the summer months, not to mention the investment in wedding attire, presents and supportive pre wedding celebrations.
As a family lawyer, I can’t help but wonder whether many of the happy couples have given a great deal of thought to what marriage means to them from a legal perspective.
Why would they?
Every couple enters into marriage with the absolute belief that marriage is for life – “until death do us part”. It’s always the last thing on most newlyweds’ minds to even consider the possibility of their relationship breaking down and the financial impact that may have in years to come?
The Law Commission have recently issued a report recommending that more information is provided to couples before they get married so they are aware the financial implications marriage can have.
It is a sad reality that modern day Britain sees a very large proportion of marriages ending in divorce. And with rates on the rise as a society, we do not appear to be getting any better at staying together.
Recent studies suggest that married couples who make it to their 10th wedding anniversary are more likely to avoid separation. But conversely figures are rising for the so called ‘silver separators’ who are experiencing an increase in divorce following retirement.
People divorce for many different reasons but the one thing all divorcing couples have in common is that on their wedding day they had usually have very little knowledge, if any, about the legal implication of their commitment.
So, what if, the unthinkable happens and separation is contemplated?
After pooling together resources, sharing a life together and often raising a family, the idea of dividing the hard earned assets built up during a marriage is an emotional and daunting exercise for many separated couples.
What was the family home often becomes a major point of dispute. Suddenly the inheritance received by one or other of the couple during the marriage becomes an asset to protect as do the pre-owned item and chattels which one or both might have brought with them.
What about the family business – how will that be affected? How can the ‘pot’ be split?
The answers to many of these questions will depend upon the extent of the financial resources at their disposal: the first step towards a fair outcome has to be for each spouse to tell the other what they have, what it is all worth and what they each earn.
The question is then how it could and should be shared. This is usually where an experienced family lawyer will ensure a fair arrangement is agreed in a constructive and amicable way.
If you have any reservations about the financial implications of marriage and the impact of a potential divorce, it is important to speak to a family lawyer and deal with any assets which you may wish to protect, such as family inheritance or a business.
It may be appropriate to enter into pre-nuptial agreements which are becoming a popular solution for many couples as they are now recognised in the English Courts.
So should we all know more about what we are entering into when getting married? Saying that there should be some legal guidance on this issue sounds very unromantic and I don’t want to put people off getting married, but I do think it’s important to know the implications of whatever endeavour we undertake so we can make informed decisions.
I have no doubt that for many of us marriage will continue to form the basis of our family units regardless of the legal implications.
But without wishing to give “something blue” to every marrying couple, would it not be better for everyone to know where they stand before saying “I do”?
Rachel is a Senior Associate in the Family Law Service at the city law firm Charles Russell LLP, based in the firm’s Guildford Office.
Charles Russell’s family team is within the magic circle of family lawyers and advise on domestic and international family law. Rachel specialises exclusively in family law and advises on all matters including divorce, civil partnership dissolution, pre-nuptial agreements, cohabitation and matters involving children.
Rachel has particular experience with high net worth financial cases, enforcement of matrimonial orders, cross jurisdictional maintenance disputes and appeals against the Child Maintenance Service.
Direct tel: 01483 252548