British court gives legal status to pre-nups

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Britain's highest court ruled in favour of one of Europe's richest women on Wednesday in a landmark divorce case that gives new legal status to pre-nuptial agreements in the country.

German heiress Katrin Radmacher had asked the Supreme Court to recognise a pre-wedding agreement signed by her ex-husband, French university researcher Nicolas Granatino, that he would make no claims on her fortune.

Granatino, a former banker, had been trying to win a six-million-pound (9.4-million-dollar, 6.8-million-euro) settlement from Radmacher, an heiress to a paper company who has an estimated fortune of 100 million pounds.

But judges ruled Wednesday that "decisive weight" should be given to the pre-nuptial agreement.

They said that for similar future cases it would now be "natural to infer that parties entering into agreements will intend that effect be given to them".

Pre-nuptial agreements have become increasingly common among wealthy couples in Britain, but English law had previously not normally considered them as binding.

"I am really pleased with the ruling but saddened at the four-year process that brought us to this point," Radmacher, who was present in court for the ruling, said afterwards.

"I am delighted that Britain has upheld fairness. It is important to me that no-one else should have to go through this."

The couple married in 1998 and had two children, now aged ten and seven. They divorced in 2007.

Granatino, 38, had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's decision to slash a divorce settlement awarded to him from about five to one million pounds because of the deal signed before they married.

He claimed that when they got married he was unaware of his wife's wealth, and had not access to proper legal advice or a translation of the German agreement before he signed.

Radmacher's lawyers had told the court that under the terms of the divorce settlement, Granatino will have the use of a property worth 2.5 million pounds for 15 years and access to a holiday home in the south of France.

Granatino will also have a personal income of 76,000 pounds a year for the next 15 years and child maintenance of 70,000 pounds a year, while most of his debts will be paid off by his ex-wife, they said.

Radmacher added in a statement: "For Nicolas and I, in our homelands -- France and Germany -- these agreements are entirely normal and routine."

"I know some people think of pre-nuptial agreements as being unromantic, but for us it was meant to be a way of proving you are marrying only for love."

British lawyers largely welcomed the decision, saying it would help to avoid lengthy court battles for divorcing couples.

"It is essential for people to have the choice to achieve some certainty and control over their futures bearing in mind the wide discretion of the family courts in England and Wales," said Suzanne Kingston, head of the family law department at Dawsons Solicitors.

© 2010 AFP

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