Since the courts are moving towards pre-nuptial agreements, what advice should I give couples about the vows they will make? Will the words “all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you” nullify the agreement? Or are they empty words in the light of a written agreement?
The most important words in the marriage are probably, “I . . . take you . . . to be my wife/husband . . . till death us do part.” A pre-nuptial agreement does not come into effect unless and until there is a divorce. In that situation, the concept of a life-long union has failed, and the wedding vows are worthless.
The problem for the priest advising a couple who have a pre-nuptial agreement is that it recognises in advance that “till death us do part” may not actually happen, and thus it brings the validity of the marriage vow into question from the very start. None the less, every couple entering marriage, with or without a pre-nuptial agreement, will insist that they have the immediate intention of a life-long union in which possessions are truly shared.
Even so, it ignores marriage as a sacrament, and assumes that it is merely a civil contract made in a sacred setting. A couple who believe in marriage’s sacramental nature will not contemplate a pre-nuptial agreement, because divorce is not theologically possible.
Usually the last agreement, written or oral, would be taken to be legally binding. The problem with oral agreements is that they can easily be disputed, but a wedding vow made with predetermined wording in the presence of many witnesses is pretty solid. But I presume that any solicitor worth his salt will have worded the pre-nuptial agreement so that, when a divorce takes place, it is not invalidated by any oral vow made in the interim.
A pre-nuptial agreement recognises the reality of divorce, without in any way prejudicing the intention of the couple to marry “till death us do part”. There is no reason why the agreement should not actually say this.
Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey
Is it appropriate for the celebrant to wear (fingerless?) gloves in a cold church. If so, what are the most appropriate material and colour?
J. H. D.
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