Love is in the air?

Love is in the air with Valentines Day upon us for another year, but reports of the shortest marriage in Kuwait’s history warn of the dangers when…

Love is in the air with Valentines Day upon us for another year, but reports of the shortest marriage in Kuwait’s history warn of the dangers when Cupid’s arrow makes a mismatch.

Three minutes after concluding the marriage ceremony and as the couple turned to walk out of the courthouse, the bride tripped over. It was reported that the groom called her “stupid”, and the newly wedded bride became extremely angry and demanded that the Judge end their marriage immediately. 

The Judge agreed and served an annulment just three minutes after he originally married them.

Many romantic souls plan to pop the question on Valentines Day, but with all the pressures of modern life, whether a relationship is formally recognised through the celebration of marriage, or less formally, when making the commitment to live together, family lawyers advise that a great deal of later heartache can be avoided if some thought and planning is undertaken by the couple before taking the plunge.

Living together

It remains a popular misconception that once a couple have lived together for two, five or more years, they acquire the status of a “common law spouse” and with it financial remedies on separation arising from their relationship. This is a complete myth and financial remedies following the breakdown of a relationship where the couple have lived together for even decades, can be extremely complicated, very expensive in terms of legal fees, and entirely unsatisfactory.

If a cohabiting couple separate, the legal remedies, insofar as dealing with the couple’s home, are extremely restrictive and based solely on the law of property and trusts, rather than any element of fairness or discretion. Unless the couple has children (where a different regime applies), there is no obligation for one party to support the other with maintenance payments, or share pensions, and there may well be no recourse to any assets or the home, particularly if one of the parties owns that property in his or her sole name.

A couple planning to live together and make the commitment to purchase property together are well advised to enter into a formal “living together agreement”, and to seek specialist advice with regards to the conveyancing arrangements. In a living together agreement (sometimes called a cohabitation agreement), the parties can state clearly their intentions with regard to how the property is to be owned, what share each will receive on any sale, regulation of bill payments, responsibility for debts and so on. A living together agreement, provided that it adheres to contractual principals, is valid and enforceable but, more importantly, it provides clarity and evidence of the parties’ intentions which minimises misunderstandings at the time the relationship breaks down and negates the need for legal proceedings.

Marriage

The legal regime of marriage provides reciprocal rights and obligations. Every year, more individuals are including pre-nuptial agreements on their pre-wedding checklist. 

A pre-nuptial agreement can, again, provide clarity as to the parties’ intentions at the time of marriage and is often used to safeguard assets acquired by one of the parties from, for example, inheritance or a future anticipated inheritance. Whilst it is important to emphasise that pre-nuptial agreements are not currently binding in English Law (which would require an amendment to statute), there are specific requirements which, if adhered to, ensure that the agreement carries as much weight as possible at the time of any subsequent divorce. Provided the agreement is properly drafted, in the same way as a living together agreement, it can, usually, narrow the issues between the parties at the time of a subsequent divorce, thus reducing tensions and the need for expensive contested divorce proceedings.

What of our unfortunate couple in Kuwait? In England, it would not have been possible for the marriage to have been annulled within three minutes of the ceremony, but let us hope that if the couple concerned had been in a relationship long enough for their financial affairs to become closely entangled, that they had a pre-nuptial agreement to secure a financial clean break as quickly as the divorce was achieved. 

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