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Populus research finds traditional marriage still holds sway over pre-nups

Amid the excitement around Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding this Saturday, Populus has explored couples’ attitudes towards pre-nuptial and cohabitation agreements.

With images of royal weddings past and present firmly ingrained in the public consciousness, it is timely to consider whether, with marriage’s role as a social institution having changed significantly over time, our attitudes towards how we enter into marriage have also altered. Pre-nuptial agreements (pre-nups), the focus of our research on behalf of Seddons, are an aspect of this, which have only relatively recently become available to the UK public.

Married Couples

Our research shows that, in spite of increasing coverage of high-profile pre-nuptial agreements in the media, such arrangements are gaining little traction among couples, with only 2% of married respondents having entered into a pre-nuptial agreement.

Pre-nuptial agreements, typically around division of property and spousal support arrangements following divorce, have been enforceable in UK law since 2010. However, the vast majority of couples shun them. A variety of reasons for this were cited, but the most common, given by over two in five (45%) of couples, was “being happy to keep to the traditional marriage system”. Meanwhile, 38% of couples said the thought of entering into a pre-nup had never crossed their mind.

Cohabiting Couples

Of those couples in a relationship but not yet married or in a civil partnership, 13% had discussed with their partner making a formal commitment by way of marriage or civil partnership with a prenup. One in five (22%) had discussed marriage or civil partnership, but without discussing a prenup.

The picture is equally striking among co-habiting couples, with only a minority (5%) of couples having formally agreed as to how they would split their belongings following a break up. While one in eight (13%) had informally discussed the subject, the vast majority, 72% had never discussed having a cohabitation agreement.

Deborah Jeff, Partner and Head of the Family Department at Seddons, commented on the findings:

“Despite the increasing public references to prenuptial agreements – particularly amongst high-net worth individuals – our research has found that for the vast majority of people pre-nups are not a part of their relationship planning.  There is a lack of understanding of how important a prenuptial agreement may be and its enforceability now in English law.  Provided the agreement is properly prepared, fair and all reasonable needs are met, they can be of magnetic importance and extremely persuasive if a marriage ends in divorce.  They also demonstrate to a court that from the outset of a marriage the parties had decided for themselves how their finances should be divided.

“What is worrying from our research, is the number of cohabiting couples that have not put in place a cohabitation agreement. This reinforces concerns that many unmarried couples who live together are unaware of their rights if the relationship breaks down, with some mistakenly relying on the myth of the common law marriage. With increasing numbers of couples living together before or instead of entering into marriage or civil partnership, it is likely we will see more disputes over the division of assets following separation.”

Nevertheless, however prudent these arrangements may well be, the question of whether they will ever become commonplace remains moot, as strong arguments against them continue to hold sway in peoples’ minds

Populus delivers insight into the attitudes the British public. It offers the chance to form successful strategies for a range of organisations, and, by getting to the heart of social and cultural issues, delivers greater in-depth understanding of the fields in which they operate. Find out more about our Solutions.


Populus interviewed a Nationally Representative sample of 2,087 UK adults aged 18+ from its online panel from the 19th-21st January 2018. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more details go to www.populus.co.uk

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