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Pre-nuptials bolstered as "career divorcee" refused more court time

Date:20 DEC 2007

The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled in the Crossley v Crossley divorce that it is possible to short-circuit normal Court procedures when a financial claim in a divorce appears to be hopeless and there is a pre-nuptial agreement. Lord Justice Thorpe's Judgment outlined the view that pre-nups are growing in importance in a fraught area of law.

The decision dismissed Susan Crossley's appeal against a High Court decision which ruled that the facts of the case could be heard in a one day hearing, rather than following the usual procedures which entail three Court hearings and a delay of up to 18 months.

Mrs Crossley is seeking a share of her fourth husband's £45m fortune. She is questioning whether the pre-nuptial agreement is binding, on the grounds that Stuart Crossley allegedly failed to disclose all his financial assets.

Mr Crossley requested that the Courts 'short-circuit' the normal procedures, given it was a short, childless marriage, both parties had independent wealth, and a pre-nuptial agreement was in place.

Lord Justice Thorpe said: "This is a quite exceptional case on its facts. If ever there is to be a paradigm case in which the courts will look to the pre-nuptial agreement as not simply one of the peripheral factors of the case but a factor of magnetic importance, then it seems to me that this is such a case".

The final outcome of this case will be particularly significant, as it should provide long-awaited clarification on the degree to which pre-nuptial agreements are binding in the English courts.

Stuart Crossley said: "This is a fair decision. I am upset that our marriage failed. Sadly, my wife is a career divorcee."

In a statement emailed to Newswatch, Mark Harper, partner in the family team at international law firm Withers LLP, and Mr Crossley's solicitor, said: "We are delighted with this decision - it is a very significant step forward for pre-nuptial agreements. The Court of Appeal has shown that when a pre-nuptial agreement exists, the English Courts can take a pragmatic approach and short-circuit normal Court procedures, saving time, money and emotional distress for all those involved. This will give anyone facing a dubious financial claim on divorce hope that it will be assessed at the earliest opportunity, and not involve a lengthy, arduous and expensive court process.

"In today's Judgment, it was suggested that where there is a pre-nup, and a short, childless marriage, the pre-nup can be a knock out blow in ruling out any financial claims on divorce. "We look forward to receiving further guidance from this case on the effectiveness of pre-nuptial agreements in the English divorce Courts. Many Judges and divorce lawyers have strongly-held views that pre-nups should be binding, particularly when they are being applied to second, third or even fourth marriages. Today's decision has shown that, at the very least, a pre-nup can help speed up the divorce process."