A pre-nuptial agreement is a written contract between a couple intending to get married that sets out an agreement as to how their assets would be split between them if their marriage were to end in divorce.
Are they legally binding in the UK?
The short answer is no, they currently have no legal standing in the United Kingdom. The Courts have the right to impose any division of all the matrimonial property. However, things may be changing as Courts are beginning to take some notice of pre-nuptial agreements. As long ago as 1998 the government stated that they believed there are significant advantages to legally binding pre-nuptial contracts.
In practice the divorce courts are beginning to take some notice and will only totally ignore a pre-nuptial agreement if it is believed to be in any way unreasonable to either of the parties involved. This is especially the case if it sought to regulate the post divorce finances regarding the maintenance, well being and housing of the children.
There is little room for altering the way in which property is divided following divorce, regardless of whose name is registered as the owner of the couple's property a Court may order it to be transferred to the other as part of the divorce settlement.
Stay ‘single' and a pre-nup works just fine
The rules for unmarried couples are quite different. A legally binding contract is enforceable and it is only a divorce that gives the Courts jurisdiction to intervene and make orders as to how the relationship is to be officially disassembled and the post divorce finances be organised. The commonly held belief that long standing unmarried couples or cohabitees have the same rights as married couples by virtue of being ‘common law spouses' is a myth and does not exist in law.
Pre-nups can be good in the right circumstances
Pre-nuptial agreements are not the answer to all divorce problems but there is an emerging consensus that for short, child-free marriages, they do have a distinct benefit which can shorten and make less stressful the process of divorce as well as make the transitions to life after divorce easier and quicker.