Prenup plans could empty ‘till death do us part’ vow of all meaning, Bishop
Legally enforceable prenups would turn wedding vows into ‘provisional’ promises and set couples up to fail before they are even married, says Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Rev Mark Davies
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury has spoken out against gay marriage and demanded MPs defend traditional family values.
Plans to give prenuptial agreements legal force could render marriage vows to stay together “for better for worse” virtually meaningless, a prominent bishop claims.
The Rt Rev Mark Davies, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, said actively encouraging couples to prepare for the possibility of separation before they are even married would turn promises at the altar into little more than a “provisional” agreement.
He said it could empty marital vows of “all meaning” at a time when he claimed marriage is already at a “historically low ebb”.
His comments came as he addressed a special service for couples in his diocese marking major wedding anniversaries including silver, gold and diamond celebrations.
He told the congregation, at St Columba’s Church in Chester, that while those present could collectively celebrate “many hundreds of years” together, it was as if future generations of married couples were already being set up to fail.
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The Law Commission, the Government’s advisory body on legal changes, is due to publish proposals later this month which would make prenuptial agreements legally enforceable in England and Wales.
Such contracts, in which couples can put valuable assets outside the scope of any future divorce settlement, are widely used in parts of the United States.
They are not formally enforced by British judges but are taken into consideration following the landmark Supreme Court ruling in favour of the German heiress Katrin Radmacher in 2010.
Ms Radmacher and her former husband, Nicolas Granatino, signed a “marriage contract” in 1998 agreeing that neither would seek money from the other if their relationship fell apart.
She said that the arrangement would prove it was “a marriage for love not money”.
When they eventually divorced, Mr Granatino was awarded almost £6 million after arguing he was entitled to financial relief, having given up a highly paid job.
But the settlement was drastically reduced after Ms Radmacher challenged it in the Court of Appeal, based on the previous agreement. The approach was then upheld by he Supreme Court.
The Law Commission’s proposals for a new approach to dividing assets after a failed marriage, which follow a four-year consultation process, are to be presented to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling within the next fortnight.
It follows claims by some rich spouses that the current approach, essentially based on equal division of joint assets, is fundamentally unfair.
Bishop Davies said that just as the recent storms and floods had exposed failings in coastal and riverside defences, British society had neglected to take steps to strengthen marriage.
“So too, in the life of our society it will surely be too late to protect the great good of marriage if we have allowed the foundations of this timeless institution to be eroded away by our own neglect,” he said.
“We must actively guard the truth about marriage with greater effort amid the storms of our time so this vital, life-giving institution is not undermined.”
He added: “Prenuptial agreements may soon become enshrined in civil law on the recommendation of the Law Commission.
“Our society would be proposing to couples seeking marriage that they prepare their own divorce settlement before making the lifelong promises of marriage.
“It is a legal provision which would surely empty the words of the marriage promise for ‘better for worse … to love and to cherish till death do we part’ of all meaning.
Pre-nuptial agreements would render these promises provisional by the legal preparations which anticipate divorce.
“We must ask ourselves today, what message does this send to couples considering marriage?
“What message does this send to the young at a moment when the institution of marriage stands at such a historically, low ebb?
“Should we not be putting our efforts into guarding and building-up the institution of marriage rather than steadily undermining it?”
Official divorce figures published earlier this month showed a slight rise in the number of divorces in England and Wales as Britain emerged from recession but that the overall divorce rate is at its lowest level for a generation.
A Government-backed study published last month concluded that investing in marriage preparation classes and relationship counselling sessions could ultimately save taxpayers billions of pounds a year by reducing family break-up.