Pre-nups will 'shatter' marriage

(Photo: Harry Fodor)

The Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury has condemned plans for UK courts to legally recognise pre-nuptial agreements in divorce settlements, arguing that such a decision will "erode" the foundation of marriage.

Though pre-marital agreements which set out the division of assets in case of divorce are commonplace in the US, British courtrooms have traditionally ignored the documents, instead choosing to divide assets on a case-by-case basis.

However, the Law Commission is now set to submit the 'Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements' proposals to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, and wants to present it before Parliament in the future.

The proposed legislation would mean that couples were able to set the terms of their divorce before they have even said 'I do', which Bishop Mark Davies claims will "surely empty the words of the marriage promise for 'better for worse...to love and to cherish till death do we part' of all meaning".

"Pre-nuptial agreements would render these promises provisional by the legal preparations which anticipate divorce," he argued, while speaking during a celebration for couples in the Shrewsbury Diocese celebrating their 25th, 30th, 40th, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries.

"We must actively guard the truth about marriage with greater effort amid the storms of our time so this vital, life-giving institution is not undermined," he urged.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, published December 2012, indicate that around 42 per cent of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce, with the average marriage lasting 32 years.

Over a third (34 per cent) of all married couples are expected to divorce by their 20th wedding anniversary.

Those who support the proposed legislation argue that it will protect those who enter into marriage from being exploited by their partner in the event of divorce.

Bishop Davies, however, believes that it sends out the wrong message to couples who are considering what is meant to be a life-long commitment.

"Should we not be putting our efforts into guarding and building up the institution of marriage rather than steadily undermining it?" he asked.

Deputy President of the Supreme Court Lady Hale, who issued a dissenting statement when German heiress Karin Radmacher won the right to protect her £100 million fortune from her former husband in 2010, agrees that the legal recognition of pre-nups will undermine the heart of marriage.

"Marriage still counts for something in the law of this country, and long may it continue to do so," she said.

Bishop Davies reminded his congregation that marriage is biblical: "It is no coincidence that that the sacred scriptures begin and end with a marriage: from the creation of man and woman in the first pages of Genesis to the last pages of Revelation where we are given the vision of the marriage feast of heaven," he said.

"This faithful, lasting union of marriage is good, very good in the eyes of our Creator and it is the source of incalculable good for humanity.

"The Church surely has a task not only to teach this beautiful vision of marriage but to give witness that this union, faithful and lasting, the foundation of the family, is possible today, tomorrow and for all generations to come," he finished, before congratulating those present on their lasting commitment to their spouses.

"May this witness of marriage continue to offer such 'light' for the world and be truly the 'salt' of the earth," he prayed.

The Law Commissions proposals will be published on February 27. Pope Francis is to hold a special Synod of Bishops in Rome later this year to address the "crisis" of marriage.

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