Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

To pre-nup or not to pre-nup?

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

I do ... but only after you sign this pre-nup. What a thorny subject. It combines two issues that people find it difficult to think rationally about -- land and love. God help anybody who thinks this will be an easy conversation.

The IFA decided to kick it off last week by writing to the Minister for Justice to ask him make pre-nuptial agreements recognisable in the courts. They believe that young farmers considering marriage should be allowed to get their other half to sign up to an agreement that will minimise the risk of the farm being split in the case of a separation. This in turn, the farm group argues, would give aging parents some confidence that they will not end up seeing some gold-digger swan off into the sunset with the proceeds of half a farm built up over generations in his or her back pocket after just a few years of marriage.

On one hand, it all appears very logical. What sensible person wanting to marry a young farmer would hold back from agreeing not to stake an unreasonable claim on the farm down the road if, God forbid, the whole thing went pear-shaped?

But is it a bit too clinical? Isn't a marriage supposed to be about two people trusting each other implicitly for the rest of their lives. Yes, it doesn't always work, but isn't that the risk you have to take? Is the act of hammering out what happens if it doesn't work almost preparing a couple for failure?

So what, says the IFA. If this is what it takes to protect the family farm from oblivion in an age when one in four marriages end in separation, so be it. Assets are even up for grabs between separating couples who have never been married since the Civil Partnership Bill came into force last year.

But what does this campaign say about our confidence in our legal system? In the good old days, a judge was supposed to able to hear both sides' cases, weigh up the facts and come to some sort of a settlement that recognised the practicalities of the situation. Does the IFA believe that the Courts are so biased against their members' interests that they need an additional legal document to protect themselves?

It is interesting to note that pre-nups have not become the norm in other countries where the farms are arguably much larger and more valuable. The US, NZ and the UK are just three examples.

A final thought. It might be relatively straightforward to get legal recognition for a pre-nup but it could prove a lot trickier to get the non-farming partner to understand its necessity.

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