April 4, 2011 -- Unromantic though it may be for a couple that has yet to marry, speculation mounts as to whether Prince William and Kate Middleton plan to sign a prenuptial agreement. Divorce can be a stressful, expensive ordeal, especially for public figures like William and Kate, and a prenuptial agreement could ensure security for the royal couple.
"A prenup might be seen as anathema to the idea that the marriage vow is supposed to be for life … but you can't ignore the statistics," said Matthew Brunsdon Tully, a divorce attorney and professor of family law at the London School of Economics, in an interview with The Associated Press. With divorce rates at all-time highs, he advises the modern couple, "It's probably prudent of people to at least consider what might happen."
Another British divorce lawyer, James Stewart, was also quoted by the AP: "In the 21st century, there is a real need for any couple in the public arena to enter into a properly drawn up prenup."
While prenuptial agreements are common in the United States, they are far less prevalent in the UK. Only in the last year have British courts agreed to recognize such deals.
But high-profile divorces in England, like William's own parents' ugly divorce in 1996, only reinforce that the couple should consider signing on that dotted line. After 15 years of marriage, Prince Charles handed over his entire personal fortune — reported to be more than 17 million pounds ($27 million today) — to Princess Diana. Prince Charles's former financial adviser, Geoffrey Bigness, succinctly summarized perception regarding that divorce to Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper in 2004 when he said, "Diana took him to the cleaners."
When Sarah Ferguson divorced Prince Andrew in 1996, without a prenup, after 10 years of marriage, Fergie complained that she received a meager settlement of only 800,000 pounds ($1.3 million today). Years later, she was reported to have hired Diana's attorney, in attempts to negotiate a much larger settlement.
William and Kate: a Prenup Agreement?
So what exactly does William stand to lose in a divorce? As the second in line to the British throne, William received a portion of Diana's $34 million estate and will inherit part of the queen's fortune, which was recently estimated at about 290 million pounds ($467 million) by the Sunday Times 2010 "Rich List." Kate's own affluent family, and her personal fortune, though smaller than her fiance's, would also be protected by a prenup.
It is also quite likely that Kate would sign a confidentiality clause, in order to avoid a scandal like Charles and Diana's divorce. "Kate is joining a family known as 'The Firm,' and every other employee of the royal household has a contact of employment which includes a fairly severe gagging clause," Stewart said to the Associated Press.
Despite these conjectures, London-based divorce lawyer Raymond Tooth cites the couple's longstanding, very public romance as evidence that a prenup is not under consideration, noting to the Associated Press, "It would have leaked out if there was one … nothing is secret anymore."
Rather than being caught up in a "whirlwind recent romance at risk of suddenly falling apart," Tooth points out that the couple has known each other for quite a long time, so theirs is not an impulsive decision. Perhaps he is correct and the only dotted line the couple will sign together is that of their marriage license on April 29th.