White Lotus – short marriages and prenuptial agreements

Any fans of the HBO satirical comedy White Lotus, the series that exposes the lives of mostly privileged, rich Americans on holiday in Hawaii, will have been unsurprised when Rachel’s wedding didn’t make it past her honeymoon.

When Rachel, a low-paid journalist marries wealthy Shane, a prenuptial is agreed and although not party to the detail, it was no doubt designed to insulate the family’s vast wealth from her, should things go wrong. Which of course they do.

This is clearly an American series, but the issues it touches on are relevant to couples facing marriage, a life together and indeed divorce. The law is different here in the UK and there is no formal definition of a short marriage, but it is generally accepted as being five years or less.

This marriage clearly qualifies and the length of the marriage can be important. Divorcing shortly after marriage can be simpler, with less likelihood for there to be children to consider and less time to build a range of shared of assets.

We have no way of knowing what was agreed in the prenup, but it goes without saying that if you need advice on a prenuptial agreement in preparation for an upcoming marriage, please get in touch and we will talk you through the benefits and the process.

Setting aside the prenuptial for the sake of this article, we will consider instead the potentially tricky issue of finances in short marriages. Some couples will simply write off the marriage as a mistake and agree an amicable financial settlement.

However, sometimes the animosity between the parties is strong and then the consideration of what is a ‘fair settlement’ can prove contentious, with the Courts relying on landmark cases for guidance when reaching a decision.

What represents a fair financial settlement?

It’s worth noting that an extended period of cohabitation before a marriage will be counted toward the length of the marriage. A divorce after 10 years cohabiting and 4 years of marriage will be treated as if the couple have been married for 14 years.

There are a range of issues used by the Courts to reach a decision and some of the most typical are:

  • Age of the couple and length of marriage
  • Income and earning capacity of both parties
  • Assets and financial resources of both parties
  • Future financial responsibilities and needs of each party
  • Contributions made to the relationship by each party
  • Standard of living enjoyed before divorce
  • Mental or physical disability of either party
  • Welfare of any dependent children

The Court will consider dividing the marital assets equally when the marriage has been short. In the case of the White Lotus programme, the reason for the prenuptial now becomes obvious.

Longer relationships can be more problematic, due to asset ownership and the potential imbalance between the financial ‘strength’ of each party.

This is particularly true if one party has pursued a career while the other has taken the role of homemaker, when the final settlement could see one party receive a larger share, based on need, as the Court tries to ensure they will be financially secure.

If deemed necessary, the spousal maintenance one party will be ordered to pay the other, will be decided by the Court and will aim to bridge the inequalities in incomes, so both parties can enjoy a lifestyle after divorce, similar to that enjoyed during their marriage.

Seek experienced advice early

Whether you are a fan of the White Lotus satirical series or not, it raises valuable issues for couples considering marriage and indeed civil partnerships. It also shows that a carefully drafted prenuptial agreement could prevent an acrimonious split and post-divorce conflict.

It’s also important to note that without a prenuptial agreement, a divorcing spouse should not assume they will receive an equal share of matrimonial assets following a short marriage. All of which highlights the need to discuss such matters with our experienced family law team here at Taylor Walton.

If you have family or marriage related issues and would like to discuss them with an experienced family lawyer, please get in touch with Ben Twitchen, a partner and Head of our Family Law Department, on 01582 714609 or by email ben.twitchen@taylorwalton.co.uk