Married at First Sight – Wedding (alarm) bells

The second series of ‘Married at First Sight’ has recently reached our television screens; a fascinating contrast between social experiment/ reality TV show/study in anthropology.

The premise is that thousands of single people volunteer to be married to somebody whom they have never met. They then go through a number of psychometric tests and are paired up by a panel of experts with their supposed ‘perfect’ partner, following which they will marry 3 weeks after being matched.

I often annoy my fellow programme-watchers whenever a legal issue flags up on the television; whether that be frowning and taking in a sharp intake of breath; or sagely nodding along. I imagine I’m not alone in this regard amongst solicitors.

Married at First Sight therefore is absolute gold dust to any family solicitor wishing to interrupt an otherwise watchable programme.

Have they entered into a pre-nuptial agreement?

The law regarding pre-nuptial agreements in England and Wales is far from clear-cut and it remains the fact that pre-nuptial agreements are not automatically binding upon divorce or dissolution in England and Wales.

Since the case of Radmacher v Granatino [2010] UKSC 42 however there has been a degree of uniformity. In this case the court decided that a pre-nuptial agreement would be binding as long as it was entered into freely and with full appreciation of the consequences.

Subsequent cases since 2010 have expanded on the issue to introduce further factors which will have a bearing in cases involving pre-nups, such as the existence of legal advice for both parties; full disclosure of each other’s finances; and the lack of any undue influence in the reaching of the agreement.

Crucially to those marrying at first sight is the question of timing. If the agreement is entered into less than three weeks before the marriage it is unlikely to hold much weight. Unless the happy couple signed the dotted line on the day they were matched then it would be very difficult to avoid the sharing principles within section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act.

Can the marriage be annulled?

The relatively simple answer to this question is “only if the marriage is ‘void’ or ‘voidable’”.

A void marriage is one which is not legally valid. For example if the couple were closely related, if one of them was under 16, or if one of them were already married or in a civil partnership at the time.

It looks like the thousands of volunteers to the programme go through quite stringent background checks so I doubt whether the marriage could be deemed to be void.

Voidable marriages are ones where the marriage is defective in some way. For example where the marriage hasn’t been consummated; where consent hasn’t been given; where the bride-to-be was pregnant by another man on the day of the marriage; or where the other person had a sexually transmitted disease when the marriage took place.

I would imagine that the majority of engaged couples are not planning on being the subject of a nationwide televised social experiment. Nevertheless, you should still take legal advice on what the implications of a marriage will be on your finances and on your family circumstances.

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith
Associate Solicitor
Family Law department
0113 3222807

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