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Prenuptial Agreements for the Older Couple: what is the right family law advice for Rupert Murdoch and those finding new love later in life?

As Rupert Murdoch, 91, is photographed with new girlfriend, Ann-Lesley Smith, 66, some people will be thinking “isn’t everyone, including Rupert Murdoch, entitled to a bit of happiness in their 90s?” Others/anyone who has watched HBO’s Succession will be thinking “whatever are Lachlan and the rest of the Murdoch children going to make of all this?” 

The impact of a second marriage (and potential divorce) on children from an earlier relationship is just one of the reasons that prenuptial agreements are so important for older couples. For such children, there is an obvious tension between wanting a parent to be happy, and worrying about depletion of an inheritance in favour of the incoming spouse. A prenuptial agreement, providing (potentially modest) needs-based financial provision for the new spouse in the event of divorce or even death, rather than a share of the family fortune, can allay fears and avoid damage to new family relationships. 

Any family lawyer will tell you that prenuptial agreements come into their own for the older couple and in cases of inherited/family wealth. It is significantly easier to negotiate a prenuptial agreement for an older couple, where the fortune has already been amassed and there is no prospect of further children of the marriage.

Back in 2007, Susan Sangster, aged 50, described by her fourth husband, 62 year old multi-millionaire property developer Stuart Crossley, as a ”career divorcee”, became one of the first to test the strength of a prenuptial agreement for an older, childless couple. Prior to the marriage, just 2 years earlier, Sangster and Crossley had signed a prenuptial agreement which said neither would make a claim against the other in the event of divorce. The Court of Appeal described the prenuptial agreement as “a factor of magnetic importance” in deciding to short circuit the standard family law disclosure process, and permitting Crossley to argue Sangster should simply be held to the Agreement. 

Fast forward to 2023, and with the benefit of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Radmacher v Granatino and subsequent case law, a prenuptial agreement will be upheld by the English Court provided (a) both parties understood the implications of the agreement when they entered into it and (b) it is reasonably fair.  Independent specialist legal advice on both sides and accurate financial disclosure are essential components, as is the need for the agreement to be signed without undue pressure on either party and, ideally, not in close proximity to the wedding day. 

When asked about his succession plans, Rupert Murdoch once famously responded “live forever”. Absent immortality, a well prepared pre or post nuptial agreement, as part of succession planning, is advisable for those entering into marriage later in life. 

As Dominic Ponsford, the editor of the Press Gazette, put it: “It certainly does not harm Rupert, at the age of 91, to be exuding an image of vitality and virility when what happens next with News Corp and Fox remains the talk of Fleet Street.”

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