Monday 26 September 2016

Pre-nups for farmers ... it's all a bit Irish

It's a tough "gold-digger" who would marry a farmer for the chance of a divorce and a bit of land, writes Carol Hunt

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

Well, Holy GOD: Biddy married for love, not Miley’s land
Well, Holy GOD: Biddy married for love, not Miley’s land

It's every young girls dream, isn't it? Work hard at school, go to college, keep yourself fit and well groomed and with a bit of luck, eyelash fluttering and a steely determination, you might just end up living a life where you're knee deep in pig sh*t every day.

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Oh, yes. Forget your average millionaire rock star, Russian oligarch or Wall Street trader, what every bleached-blonde gold-digger out there wants is to nab themselves a nice Irish farmer-boy. She can then spend years living the high life, mucking out the pigs and cattle, having his children, putting up with his mammy and then, when the time is right, she'll divorce him so she can get her greedy mitts on some of his land. The strumpet could even marry again and the poor farmer could see another man tilling his soil. Sure, the Land League was formed for less.

Thankfully, most Irish farmers are aware that they need to defend themselves against these manipulative sirens and have taken a demand for pre-nuptial contracts to be recognised in law to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Seemingly some of them are reluctant to transfer land to their children in case their marriages break up. Just because marriages don't always last forever, doesn't mean the family farm can't is their argument.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president John Comer adroitly articulated the farmers' dilemma last Thursday to Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio 1, when he said that, "farmers are as romantic as any other part of society, but they are also pragmatic. What they want to put into pre-nups is a level of security that if you walk into an arrangement with a certain level of assets that there won't be any potential for - and I hate saying it over live radio (but he went ahead and said it anyway) - for gold-diggers perhaps or maybe more vulnerable elements of a partnership being exploited". I suspect that by "gold-digger", Mr Comer is insinuating that the spouse who does not bring land to the marriage is the female of the partnership, but I could be wrong.

Mr Comer then went on to explain that he was aware of "many cases where marriages haven't lasted more than six or eight months and the family farm that had been built up over generations had to be sold off as part of the divorce settlement". It's worth remembering that back in 1995 when this country narrowly voted to legalise divorce, it was big farmers who most opposed it (76pc), with smaller farmers just behind at 69pc. Not for religious or moral reasons, but precisely because they didn't want their partner to be entitled to any of their land assets if divorce ensued.

Farmers, you see, are different. As we heard from Mr Comer, they are as romantic as the rest of us - perhaps even a little impetuous and prone to being "swept off their feet" (by the aforementioned gold-digger) if his story of all those marriages ending after six or eight months is to be believed - but they are more "pragmatic". That means, in the case of them making a mistake and their marriage breaking down, they want the right not to hand their ex-partner what is legally theirs. In essence they want to have their cake and eat it. Or, if you like, they want to enjoy the services and attentions of their "gold-digger", produce legitimate children with her and yet still have the legal status of a bachelor when it comes to the sharing of assets. It's a nice deal if they can get it, but I'm hoping that logic - and morality - will prevail and the minister will be persuaded that the whole notion of farmers being legally entitled to a pre-nup is a Very. Bad. Idea.

Why? Well, first of all, marrying into a farm is not a cushy choice. Two years ago, Carlow woman Lorna Sixsmith wrote a book entitled, Would you marry a farmer? Confessions of a Farmette. In her advice to women who were considering marrying a farmer, she included such gems as, "It is comforting to remember that should a bull attack you that you have good life insurance. When driving anywhere, your husband is likely to fall asleep after an average of 10 miles so you turn into a chauffeur if you are travelling with him. Don't get sick. There's no time". And: "Get used to being a single mum for 10 months of the year."

So, if you're planning on marrying a farmer, you'd want to be pretty mad about him [or her] to begin with. But what if he [or she] demands a pre-nup? I don't want to give out marital advice but . . . I'm going to. Stop. Think. Do you really want to marry a person who doesn't trust you? Who doesn't want to share their assets with you? Who may probably want you to work on the farm, in the home and do the lion's share of childcare (should you have children) for the sole reward of being called "Mrs"?

One valid suggestion is that prenuptial agreements "may have the effect of making the non-farming spouse feel emotionally disconnected from the farming business because he/she knows that the business is not a joint or marital asset". Which makes sense. Why would you break your back working on a farm that you have no stake in? But then why would you marry a man [or woman] who, from the get-go, had his eye on how he could do you out of your legal rights if the marriage didn't work?

I hesitate to disagree with Mr Comer, who obviously has more experience of farming marital relationships than I have, but that seems extremely unromantic to me. As well as unfair, immoral and unconstitutional.

But is land ownership so precious that farmers believe they should be exempt from laws that apply to everyone else? On the Today with Sean O'Rourke show, the example was given of a young couple who agreed to a pre-nup - he has a home worth half-a-million and she has bank shares worth the same.

But after they have children, her shares are wiped out in the crash and then they separate. Is it right that she walks away with nothing? Hardly. To even suggest it demeans the whole concept of marriage and parenting. But if her husband's home is a farm, that is what he would want to happen. That is what two-thirds of farmers polled last week want to happen.

There are families up and down the country who would prefer that their businesses remain within the family regardless of marriage break-ups. They would be laughed out of court if they produced a pre-nup in order to try deprive a divorcing partner of what is lawfully theirs. Land is not sacred. Thinking it is puts property before people.

Farmers - both romantics and pragmatists - need to know that in modern Ireland, in cases of dispute, a court will look at all assets before coming to a fair decision. That's the law. Get used to it. Or don't get married. It's that simple.

@carolmhunt

Sunday Independent

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