Law and Conversation

May 6, 2011

Royal weddings, prenups, and hats

I couldn’t resist posting last week about Will and Kate’s excellent wedding, including a reference to UK freelance writer Alex Aldridge’s 3-part series of royal wedding posts on Above The Law. In one of those posts, Aldridge quoted speculation on both sides of whether the happy couple had a prenuptial agreement in place before they tied the knot.

After the wedding, the Telegraph reported that they did not: the newspaper quoted an unidentified friend as having said that Prince William held firm against legal advice to do so, saying he loves and trusts Kate completely. We don’t actually know whether this report is true, though I think we can assume that the Telegraph wouldn’t have printed this story if its editors weren’t pretty confident that the information was reliable.

As a lawyer, when I hear stories of a person’s disregarding advice of counsel or not bothering to seek it in the first place, I usually roll my eyes at the person’s folly and poor judgment. Every rule has its exception, though, as lawyers and judges well know. If the Telegraph’s report is accurate, I think William got it right.

Many people like to punt the responsibility for their decisions to their lawyers–and uncritical spectators or reporters often enable them to get away with it. I’ve seen plenty of news stories that quote people as saying that they’d just love to do something, such as explaining some questionable behavior or testifying in their own defense, but their [impliedly overly cautious, mean, nasty, insensitive, and/or moneygrubbing] lawyers won’t let them.

That’s just not correct. Lawyers don’t make those decisions:  the client does.

I can imagine that Prince William might have been under some pressure from other members of the royal family or their staff to insist on Kate’s signing a prenuptial agreement. (A spokesperson denied it, in which case, good for the royal family.) If he had been, his easy course of action might have been to cave and tell Kate “Darling, I’m so sorry, but The Firm insists that you sign a prenup. Our lawyers have drafted something and they told me that we just have to sign it before we can be married.”

But think about it: nothing says “I don’t/my family doesn’t trust you, and I’m going into this marriage with the idea that there’s a decent chance we’ll get divorced” like “I want you to sign a prenuptial agreement.” Could anyone have blamed Kate if, had she been presented with such an ultimatum, she had thrown her sapphire engagement ring back at William, canceled her fittings with Sarah Burton, and moved out?

If the royal family’s lawyers advised William to require a prenup, they were unquestionably doing their job. I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before for the Illinois Bar Journal, and many experienced lawyers and formerly married people alike believe it’s foolish to marry without one, at least when one member of the couple has substantially more property or earning power than the other, and in the case of subsequent marriages where one or both spouses want to protect their children’s inheritances. New York magazine ran a piece a while back with some coaching on some less blunt, yet completely clear, ways to approach this sensitive subject with the love of your life.

Still, even lawyers may disagree on the advisability of prenuptial agreements in particular situations. Though I agree that there’s a place for prenups, it seems to me that in the context of a first marriage with no kids, more often than not, trusting your intended without exacting signatures on a legal instrument is the right course of action–assuming that you’ve acted with due care and diligence.  That means getting to know each other over a reasonable period, fully disclosing your respective backgrounds and positions, meeting family and friends, and perhaps living together. (And being in love, yes.) Will and Kate did all of those things. Nothing’s ever certain, but I’d wager that their union will endure with no regrets for no prenup. Why marry someone you don’t trust? Especially in the 21st century, even royals can always wait until they’re sure.

The Blueness of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson absorbed much of my attention during the part of the wedding that I watched–far more than Princess Beatrice’s Medusa-like hat (as characterized by an old friend of mine), made (and defended) by the same designer, Philip Treacy. How about you? Do you think she’ll ever wear that stunning ensemble again?

April 29, 2011

The royal wedding, law, and story

UK freelance writer Alex Aldridge has provided a 3-part legal perspective on today’s royal wedding for Above The Law, including quotes from some who believe that Will and Kate have a signed prenuptial agreement and at least one who thinks they don’t. And Penelope Trunk lends some affirmation for my fascination with the royal wedding by acknowledging her own in a thoughtful post in which she muses on how Will and Kate will build a happy life together by finding meaningful work.

Media reports notwithstanding, we don’t and can’t really know much of the real story of this royal couple’s romance–though it’s very pleasant to see that they seem happy and very much in love, and at least as likely to remain so as any newlyweds. For some really detailed accounts of other aristocratic relationships, history provides a more fertile field.

It’s hard to beat Stella Tillyard‘s “Aristocrats,” the story of Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, for a marvelous story of 18th century marriage among the English gentry. For other stories of upper-class alliances that clearly set forth the role of completely non-romantic factors in marriage negotiations–i.e. money and social rank–read not only the nonfiction “Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt:  The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age,” by Amanda Mackenzie Stewart, but also any of Jane Austen‘s novels and Edith Wharton‘s sadly unfinished “The Buccaneers,” among other titles.  What I’m currently reading, Anthony Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now,” is a completely cynical look at marriage among the 19th century’s English upper classes that’s guaranteed to cast a dark veil over any starry eyes.

Stella Tillyard said “I’ve always thought that one of the reasons why people read biography is to find out ordinary things. We tend to read the lives of extraordinary people in order to find out details of ordinary life.” What do you think?

Blog at