International Family Law and Prenuptial Agreements

Nov 09, 2022   ·   5 minute read
I love you. Amazed surprised positive African American couple sitting in the cafe and being covered with a blanket while getting engaged

It is trite to say that the world is getting smaller but when it comes to family law, it is true as there is an increasing number of UK families with connections to more than one country. That has led to a rise in the number of requests for help from families with international family law concerns or requiring advice on an international prenuptial agreement.

For expert family law advice call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.

International prenuptial agreements

As specialist family law solicitors with many years of experience in preparing prenups and postnuptial agreements, we have seen an increase in inquiries about nuptial agreements with an international element, not just from couples who are based in Manchester and the North of England, but also from couples who are based in London and the South East of England wanting expert advice at a competitive cost. That increase in inquiries is down to the following trends:

  • The number of UK residents meeting and marrying partners from other countries
  • The number of couples who own assets overseas such as a holiday home or a business based abroad
  • Couples who are UK based but whose families or family assets are based abroad; normally their families are passing some of their wealth to the marrying couple (to give them a financial head-start, or for tax planning reasons) but the families realise that this wealth is vulnerable to divorce without a prenup in place
  • The number of people who are a beneficiary of an offshore trust
  • The number of overseas families who have settled in the UK but already have a prenup in their country of origin or in the country where they hold assets

The law on international prenuptial agreements

Although the world is getting smaller divorce law has not been globalised. Divorce laws, practices, and procedures vary widely from country to country. The unwary can therefore falsely assume that having signed a prenup agreement in country A that their agreement will be binding in their spouse’s country of origin B, or if they decide to emigrate to country C.

Whenever the prenuptial agreement solicitors at Evolve Family Law are asked to prepare a prenup it is important to ask the right initial questions. For international prenups the questions should include:

  • Country of domicile for both parties to the marriage. This can be different from the country the engaged couple lives in as it is a complex legal concept
  • Countries where any existing assets and property are located
  • Countries where any future assets and property are likely to be located
  • The country or countries that one or both of the couple may relocate to in the future, for example, the plan may be to spend a lot of time in the Florida holiday home

To add to the complexities of advising on prenuptial agreements it is important to remember that Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands all count as separate countries.

If the answers to any of these questions reveal a foreign connection, it is really important to work out which country the prenup should be based in. For quite a few prenuptial agreements the answer is not England.

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Getting international prenuptial agreements right

Family lawyers should not be wedded to their own jurisdiction and assume that a prenuptial agreement should be prepared in England as that is not necessarily the best decision for a client. It can make a massive difference to how assets are divided if a couple split up without having either signed a prenuptial agreement or if they did not get an agreement prepared in the country that best suits their international links and circumstances. That’s because in some countries prenup agreements are treated as legally binding and in others they ‘are not worth the paper they are written on’.

Even if England is the right country for the prenuptial agreement to be prepared in, it is important to think about whether a ‘mirror’ prenup agreement is needed in the other countries the couple are linked to, or at least having a specialist family lawyer in that other country having some input on the wording of the prenup, so that the agreement is executed in accordance with the relevant local law and the agreed country for choice of jurisdiction is recognised.

Is an international prenuptial agreement worth signing?

With or without international aspects, our family law solicitors are asked if it is worth signing a prenuptial agreement. Invariably the answer is that a prenup is a sensible piece of relationship planning: No one who is getting married thinks their marriage will fail, but almost half do. It is also really helpful for the couple to think properly about their future financial security if things do go wrong. Also, the English divorce courts now rarely go against a prenup that has been put together in the right way.

Preparing a prenup includes an element of speculation as who knows what may happen in relation to the couple’s future life together. However, it is normally possible to build in enough flexibility to deal with life changes. If life takes an unexpected course, such as a return to the UK after a marriage abroad with a foreign prenup, it is as well to dust off the document and get some advice on whether it remains fit for purpose.

For expert family law advice call our team of specialist family lawyers or complete our online enquiry form.