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Needs of children more important than nuptial agreements

High Court refuses to leave heiress in 'relative luxury' and husband in 'relative penury'

3 March 2014

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A High Court judge has set aside a prenup and two postnuptial agreements made by a wealthy heiress and her husband, to protect the "reasonable requirements" of their three children.

The Law Commission outlined plans for binding 'nuptial agreements' last week, but they would only be enforceable if they met the 'financial needs' of each other and of the children.

Ruling in Luckwell v Limata [2014] EWHC 502, Mr Justice Holman said that if the court followed the agreements and made no order in favour of the husband, the children would be left in the "damaging situation" of staying with their mother in "relative luxury" and father in "relative penury", if at all.

Holman J said it was "scarcely necessary" to cite any authority for the importance, when achievable, of each parent having "at least adequate homes in which their children can visit them and stay".

The court heard that following their separation, Victoria Luckwell continued to live at Connaught Square in central London with a live-in nanny. She continued to receive £81,000 a year from her parents, and had made regular foreign trips, including two to Monaco.

In contrast, Holman J said the prospects of her husband, Francesco Limata, were bleak.

"For about a year he moved from room to room in his own mother's bed and breakfast hotel, depending on which room (if any) was vacant.

"When the hotel was full, he slept on the sofa or a spare bed at various other addresses. He said he was living like a tramp, with his possessions in bin bags."

Holman J added: "Frankie is currently working part time in his mother's hotel and is paid £6.50 per hour, at or about the minimum wage. He is undertaking a degree in art with the Open University which he hopes to complete by spring 2017. "

The judge estimated that Victoria had a net worth of £6.7m, while her husband had net debts of £226,000.

"In the absence of the agreements it is inconceivable that any court would not make a substantial award to the husband.

"Further, if all the facts were the same but the genders reversed, it is, in my view, inconceivable that the agreements would outweigh making a substantial award to the wife, even if the children were primarily living with the husband and only intermittently staying with her."

Holman J quoted from the Supreme Court ruling in Radmacher v Granatino, in which Lord Phillips said a "nuptial agreement cannot be allowed to prejudice the reasonable requirements of any children of the family".

The judge distinguished the Radmacher case, in which the wife had means which were so great that suitable provision could be made for the father "without impacting in the slightest on the lifestyle and accommodation provided by the mother".

In Luckwell, Holman J said that any order would require the "damaging upheavals of sale" and moving to a smaller house in a less fashionable and less central area of London.

"Nevertheless I have concluded that the need to provide an adequate home in which the children can visit and stay with their father is very important and, insofar as the balance of welfare considerations is concerned, does outweigh the upheaval."

Holman J awarded the husband around £1,240,000, including £900,000 to buy a three-bedroom house.

In a press statement issued last week, Victoria Luckwell said: "Sadly, I'm left to conclude there is a strong financial disincentive for a wealthy woman to marry if she cannot be assured of protecting her family's assets. Simply put, this is a gold-digger's charter."

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