A leading family lawyer has called for British divorce laws to be revised to bolster the status of pre-nuptial agreements following a high-profile court ruling involving a German millionairess.
Katrin Radmacher was today told she would not be forced to share her £100m fortune with her French ex-husband Nicholas Granatino.
The pair had drawn up a pre-nup in Germany prior to the marriage in England, in 1998, which stated Mr Granatino could not claim any part of her wealth should they separate.
The High Court later ruled he should be given £5.8m but that was overturned today by the Court of Appeal which reduced the award to £1m plus a £2.5m housing fund which must be returned to Mrs Radmacher when their youngest child is 22. Appeal judge Lord Justice Thorpe said he believed it had become "increasingly unrealistic" for courts to disregard pre-nuptial agreements.
Peter Morris, a partner and head of the family law team at the Leeds office of national law firm Irwin Mitchell, said the case brought uncertainty surrounding separations to the fore and that the time had come for the law to be overhauled.
He said: "This case is a good example of why legislative change is necessary, not just to reflect the fact that society has altered greatly since our divorce laws were framed, but also to bring England into line with much of the rest of the world where legally binding pre-nups are commonplace.
"The pre-nup here was not upheld completely but the husband's award of £1m was substantially less than it may have been without its influence on the court's thinking.
"It is a significant case because the court also sets out the kind of instance where pre-nups would be relevant and that they are not just for the super rich. An example is given of a second marriage where the couple are looking to ring fence the assets built up before the marriage or protect the interests of any children from earlier marriages."
Irwin Mitchell has seen the number of couples opting to protect their financial futures through pre- and post-nuptial agreements double in some parts of the country during the economic downturn.
Peter Morris added: "The trend we are seeing is that people want certainty – they want to know where they stand either through the agreements or, if they have separated, through a negotiated settlement rather than leaving it up to a judge to decide.
"The Radmacher case highlights the difficulties faced by couples under the current legal framework and reinforces the need for that to be addressed."