Published: 3rd April 2015
A post-nuptial agreement is a written contract that is executed after a couple get married or enter into a civil partnership and is used to agree on the division of assets and finances between both parties, should they separate in the future. Recently, this has become the subject of controversy in a case involving William & Caroline Hopkins from Somerset.
The couple met in the 1980s; they were both already married with young children, which turned into what was described as a ‘clandestine affair’ and ended up having a child together. Mr and Mrs Hopkins married in 2009, 8 years after moving in together.
Mrs Hopkins lost her £2 million court battle with her husband after signing a post-nuptial agreement in 2011 – when Mrs Hopkins consulted a divorce solicitor just over a year after their wedding. The agreement stated that Mrs Hopkins was entitled to the family home in Wincanton, 50% of Mr Hopkins’ pension, and an investment property worth £250,000.
Despite the large sum of money in the agreement, Mrs Hopkins had claimed that, after the legal costs, she would be left with less than £430,000 before pensions. She then sought £2 million, stating that the money would be needed to "meet her reasonable needs".
Mr Hopkins, a property tycoon with an estimated worth of £38 million, was accused of pressuring his ex-wife into signing the post-nuptial agreement. Disputing these claims, Mr Hopkins offered £200,000 to his wife. When Mrs Hopkins questioned the fairness of the post-nuptial agreement, her husband allegedly became ‘uncontrollably angry’ with her, causing him to display threatening behaviour towards her. Mr Hopkins admits it is possible there was some physical tension during particular stressful times in their marriage, but denies that he displayed any physical acts of violence.
Deputy High Court Judge Nicholas Cusworth QC had claimed he was swayed in favour of Mr Hopkins as his ex-wife had dramatised and possibly exaggerated what had happened. Even though Mr Hopkins admitted to ‘bullying’ behaviour in the letters exchanged between him and his ex-wife, Judge Cusworth concluded that she wasn’t operating under any undue influence or improper pressure that would have persuaded her into signing the agreement. The Judge also thought that Mrs Hopkins had received more than adequate legal advice before agreeing to sign the post-nuptial agreement.
The judge ruled that Mrs Hopkins had received her ‘needs based reward’ from the post-nuptial alone and her claim never extended to anything more than that. Pointing out the huge expense of the case, Judge Cusworth noted the total costs of over £750,000, with Mrs Hopkins owing £120,000 in legal fees and Mr Hopkins being required to pay out a sum of £638,097; which includes the monies awarded to his ex-wife.
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