Radmacher v Granatino transformed the way English courts, and indeed the public, regard prenuptial agreements. Prenups have always divided opinion but, whether you see them as sensible or cynical, it cannot be denied that they give couples greater control over their marriage. And now, thanks to Ayesha Vardag’s tenacity, couples who do take this opportunity can trust that their prenup is worth the paper it’s written on.
In 2010, Vardags represented Katrin Radmacher in a case that culminated in a landmark ruling at the Supreme Court. Centuries of legal history were overturned when the court gave fairly-contracted prenuptial agreements decisive weight in English divorce law. Previously in England and Wales, such agreements were seen as contrary to public policy because historically, women would not have been able to sit at the bargaining table on equal terms. There were also fears that prenuptial agreements would encourage divorce. But, as Ms Radmacher stated herself, prenuptial agreements are considered a binding document in Europe: “For Nicolas and I, in our homelands - France and Germany - these agreements are entirely normal and routine”.
The case concerned a German wife, heir to a large fortune from a paper industry, and her French husband, a banker. The parties married in London 1998, having signed a prenuptial agreement before a notary in Germany three months previously. This agreed that neither party would benefit from the property of the other on divorce. The decision to get a prenup was instigated by Ms Radmacher after her father insisted that her inheritance be formally protected. Ms Radmacher was adamant that this prenup was proof that the pair were marrying for love, not money.
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The pair separated in October 2006 after eight years of marriage. In 2003, Mr Granatino had left his job at JP Morgan & Co where he was earning £120,000 per annum to pursue an academic career in biotechnology at Oxford University with a salary of £30,000.
During the divorce proceedings in June 2008, Mr Granatino applied for financial relief at the High Court. He was awarded a total of £5,560,000 to cover annual income for life, a house in London and Germany so that he could see his children and periodical payments for each child. The judge, Mrs Justice Baron, did take the prenup into account but, since Mr Granatino did not have legal advice when he agreed to it and the couple had since had children, she determined that its importance had diminished. Ms Radmacher successfully appealed this decision, stating that the prenup should have been given decisive weight and therefore that his fathering requests could be acknowledged but his long-term needs could not be funded by her family inheritance.
Mr Granatino appealed this decision at the Supreme Court and was dismissed. Ultimately, the court held that the prenuptial agreement was legally enforceable and Mr Granatino had no right to renege on his promise, as set out in the document. The Supreme Court ruled that both pre and post-nuptial agreements have ‘magnetic importance’ and spouses should be held to them unless it can be demonstrated that they are unfair in either how they were created of the effect that they would have. The understanding between Ms Radmacher and Mr Granatino when they married was respected and Ms Radmacher’s inheritance therefore protected.
“A thoroughly modern judgment”, the ruling brought English matrimonial law in line with the rest of the world. In a statement after the court victory, Ayesha Vardag championed prenuptial agreements as safeguards of personal autonomy, “from today, grown-ups can agree in the best of times what will happen in the worst of times”. Bolstered by this landmark ruling, couples who want to prepare for the future with a prenup can be confident that the court will let them keep their promise.
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