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17 July 2015

The potential perils of a quickie “I Do”

New Channel Four programme Married at First Sight has attracted a spate of headlines as viewers and media commentators alike debate the merits of a “social experiment” that sees individuals prepare to marry a total stranger.

The premise behind the programme is whether science can predict who we fall in love with and involves experts, including psychologists, an anthropologist and a Church of England minister, pairing up individuals with the help of DNA testing and questionnaires.

For divorce lawyer Fran Hipperson, a senior associate at B P Collins LLP, the most important question is whether each of the couples understands the legal implications that come with marriage and the potential fallout should they decide to divorce.

“While for some this may be viewed as light-hearted entertainment, marriage creates a legal relationship and comes with financial consequences and responsibilities,” she said. “What many people don’t realise is that while there may be a ‘quickie wedding’, there is no such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’.

“Reference has been made in the programme to the couples having five weeks to decide whether or not to continue the marriage or to seek a divorce. It isn't, however, that simple.

“Unless the marriage has not been consummated, in which case it can, in some circumstances, be annulled, the couples will have to wait at least a year before they can begin divorce proceedings.”

Fran says the speed of the TV unions also highlights the importance of signing a pre-nuptial agreement, which sets out how a couple intend their finances to be dealt with if they do divorce. These would normally be drafted and signed by each party in the months leading up to the marriage.

“We would certainly recommend couples take expert legal advice and consider putting a pre-nuptial agreement in place,” continued Fran. “Certain criteria must be met to ensure that a pre-nuptial agreement is properly entered into and that there are no "vitiating factors", such as misrepresentation or duress. Full and detailed consideration also needs to be given to its terms to ensure that it will meet both parties' needs in the event of divorce and separation while still protecting each spouse's own resources.”

Fran says the existence of a pre-nuptial agreement should mean that the couple avoid the indignity of a squabble and potentially protracted court proceedings about who gets what, and adds that it’s also essential that each party is happy with the agreement, which is why it should be concluded well in advance of the wedding. to allow a cooling off period.

She concluded: “For the prospective newlyweds taking part in this programme, we hope they have been well advised as, if the marriage doesn’t last, there is every possibility of one party seeking to make a claim against the other's assets and that’s not something to be treated lightly.”

Pre-nuptial agreements are not legally binding in this country, however considerable weight is given to them and even where an agreement cannot be upheld in its entirety a judge is required to make an award as close as possible to the terms of the agreement in order to meet the claimant spouse's needs.

For expert legal advice on pre-nuptial agreements and divorce, please contact the family law practice at B P Collins LLP on 01753 279091 or email familylaw@bpcollins.co.uk.

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