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Heard the one about the mother-in-law?

My attention was drawn to a rather unusual case recently.  Tales of a mother-in-law and son-in-law not seeing eye to eye provide a staple for many stand-up routines.  However such a scenario headed for the High Court in July when a millionaire mother claimed a 93% share in the £3miillion Chelsea home owned in the sole name of her 53 year old daughter to, in her view, “protect’ her daughter from her husband, she being his fourth wife.

The background to the case was that the property was purchased in 1991 in the sole name of the daughter. At the time, the mother funded 93% of the purchase price and her daughter the balance.  It was claimed that this created a “constructive trust’ entitling the mother to a 93% share in the house and control of it.  Potentially that could have prevented that share of the house being taken into account in the event of the relationship between the daughter and the son-in-law breaking down.  The mother-in-law asserted there had been an agreement with her daughter that she would have an interest in the house but this was disputed by her daughter who said that the monies had been provided as a loan that had mostly been repaid.

The daughter married her husband in 2008.  Before the marriage, her mother is said to have pleaded with her daughter to enter in to a pre-nuptial agreement but she did not.  Subsequently her mother brought the claim to be entitled to a share of the house, a dispute that lasted for 3 years and, understandably, put a great strain on the relationship between mother and daughter.

Ultimately the Judge rejected the mother’s claim.

Could this case have been avoided by the daughter entering in to a pre-nuptial agreement as her mother had asked?  Quite possibly.  Pre-nuptial agreements are not yet absolutely binding in the event of marriage break-up although can be persuasive in the court determining a division of assets.  If the marriage lasted, the pre-nuptial agreement would never have needed to be relied upon and the mother in this case may have been satisfied that her daughter had taken steps to protect herself and her financial assets. 

If you would like any legal advice about pre-nuptial agreements, please feel free to contact me or one of our other experienced family law solicitors.

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