GUEST BLOG: Are prenups feminist?

Our very first GUEST BLOG comes from HAZEL WRIGHT. Hazel is a divorce and family solicitor and mediator in Central London. First woman to be made partner in her law firm.  Proud mother of a feminist daughter. @hkw1981

We all know of someone who has a prenup. What’s that? You don’t? Never heard of:

  • Kanye West and Kim Kardashian (Kim gets $1m for every year of marriage up to a total of 10 years, and keeps the Bel Air mansion. No provision for custody of the kids), or
  • Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (each keeps what they brought into the marriage, and share what they make during the marriage by putting that into a trust for the 6 children)?

A couple of points about these couples:

  •  Each has their own independent wealth. Angelina Jolie was worth $185m when she married Brad Pitt, then worth $240m.
  • After marriage, none of them gave up or cut down their career to look after children.

Kanye and Kim, just married

On the face of it, the idea of a prenup is a real recognition of the power of feminism, and recognises the equality that feminists have fought for since I was a girl in the 1960s, and before that. But for many couples, financial equality is not possible. Most adults marry earlier in life, before they have amassed much wealth. Then they find that it is really hard to bring up children in a household where both parents work full time in busy careers. It is difficult to pay for decent child care out of an ordinary pay packet. With the decline of tax credits, it is going to get even harder to justify both parents working, and paying for child care.

It is still a fact in this country that where a couple decide that one of them will be at home with the children, usually until the youngest child goes to full time primary school, the at home parent will be the mother.  The Office for National Statistics says that the figure of dads staying at home has increased from 111,000 to 229,000 in the 20 years to 2014. During that time the number of stay at home mums has decreased by 45,000 to 2.04 million.

So why am I writing about prenups? It is because of the very real impact of the terms of most prenups on women, if the marriage comes to an end. Most prenups are prepared before the couple have any children. Both spouses are working.

But on divorce, it is often the case that life has moved on, and many women find themselves in a financially weaker position than when they married. They may have sold a first flat, or put all of their savings into buying the family home. They probably have not earned as much as their husbands. Female managers over 40 earn 35% less than men. That impacts on the size of their pensions. Without a prenup, divorce law can even up the balance, but prenups are becoming increasingly binding. Of course if you do not marry at all, the less financially favoured parent will often be much worse off on relationship breakdown.

A well-crafted prenup, prepared by skilled, sensitive and thoughtful family solicitors may foresee these situations, and give real equality for both men and women. But the great majority will not provide for relationship-generated disadvantage. So women in particular should watch out if asked to sign a prenup.

~ © Hazel Wright

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