In March 2015, a case was decided in the High Court in which the wife argued that she should not be held to the terms of a postnuptial agreement. She claimed she should not be held to the terms of the agreement she had signed, alleging that she had been put under undue pressure to sign.
At the time of the hearing the husband was 66 and wife 62. They had known each other and been in a relationship on and off over a period of some 40 years and had a son together, as well as two older children each. However, they had only actually been married for about two years when they separated, about 6 months after the date of the breakdown of their marriage.
In 2011 the couple had entered into a postnuptial agreement, which the wife's legal advisers had advised her against signing, on the basis that the financial provision in the agreement was significantly less than she could expect to receive from the court (in the absence of the agreement) in the event of the breakdown of the marriage.
The wife now argued that she should not be held to the terms of the postnuptial agreement: specifically that she should receive an additional £2 million, on top of the financial provision in the agreement. She asked the court to take her emotional state and the pressures she claimed that she had been under to sign the agreement into account.
The husband disputed the wife’s claim that she should receive more than under the terms of the postnuptial agreement but offered to pay her a further £200,000.
The Deputy High Court Judge rejected the wife's case and went on to consider whether the provision in the agreement was fair to the wife, or whether she could be said to be in a position of “real (financial) need”. He held that the wife’s “real needs” would be met by the provision in the agreement plus the additional 200k offered by the husband, on the basis that each party would then pay their own legal costs.
The decision is an example of the application of the principle in Radmacher v Granatino: that the court will now uphold the terms of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement freely entered into by each party, with full appreciation of its implications, unless it would not be fair to hold the parties to the agreement.
Moreover, here the court applied a stricter test of “real need” to the wife's financial needs than the more generous approach that would have been applied, in the absence of the agreement, in what was clearly a “Big money” case.
Hopkins v Hopkins (2015) EWHC 812 (Fam): judgement delivered 26 March 2015
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