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The Billion Dollar Prenup

View profile for Georgina Stavrou
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It is the unexpected divorce battle that has taken America and the investment world by storm. Ken Griffin, the 46 year old founder and Chief Executive of Citadel, one of the world’s most successful investment firms, surprised many last summer by seeking to end his 11 year marriage.

He is ranked as being the 274th richest person in the world; his net worth is estimated by Forbes at $6.5 billion. His wife is the French-born Anne Dias Griffin, a Harvard graduate, who used to run her own small investment firm, but now spends most of her time raising the parties’ three children. 

In July 2014 Mr Griffin filed for divorce in Chicago citing the common American reason of “irreconcilable differences”. The Court invited Ms Griffin to respond to the application which she did by filing a counter-suit. Ms Griffin sought to over-turn the prenuptial agreement she entered into with her husband; claiming that she was subjected to undue influence when presented with the agreement days before their lavish wedding at the Palace of Versailles.

Ms Griffin alleges that she and Mr Griffin had an intense argument just three days before the wedding when he introduced the pre-nuptial agreement to her. Ms Griffin claims that the argument apparently became heated describing her husband as  being “angry, violent and intimidating” and that he even “destroyed a piece of furniture” when she refused to sign the agreement.

The day after their argument the parties met with a psychologist to try to resolve Ms Griffin’s apparent concerns about having a pre-nuptial agreement. According to Ms Griffin the psychologist recommended that she should agree to Mr Griffin’s proposal and that she should sign the agreement. Ms Griffin conceded and the agreement was signed the following day; the day before the wedding.

Unbeknown to Ms Griffin at the time her husband was already a client of the psychologist. Ms Griffin claims that the psychologist was deliberately introduced to persuade her to enter into the agreement which, if found to be valid, would only entitle her to 1% of her husband’s net worth (approximately $50 million). Mr Griffin’s legal team described the allegations as “salacious and untrue”.  It seems that the arguments as to the validity of this pre-nuptial agreement will continue in these ongoing and contested proceedings.

Even though this is an American case, the facts and arguments raised as to the validity of the agreement are also relevant in England and Wales. When considering pre-nuptial agreements parties must be aware of the following:-

  1. They must enter into the agreement voluntarily. They should not be under any pressure or be forced into signing the agreement;
  2. They must have separate independent legal advice;
  3. They must provide financial disclosure;
  4. The agreement should be entered not less than 21 days before the date of the marriage ceremony; and
  5. The agreement must be fair. It is recommended that the agreement should be regularly reviewed taking into account changes to circumstances such as the birth of any children.

As the agreement was not signed until the day before the wedding in this case, it is likely that the agreement would not be upheld in England and Wales because it was entered into less than 21 days before the date of the marriage ceremony. This raises the presumption that there has been some undue influence or pressure on Ms Griffin to sign the agreement. The onus would be on Mr Griffin to rebut that presumption.

It appears from the facts that Ms Griffin is alleging that her husband had colluded with the psychologist in getting her to sign the agreement. Would this be considered undue pressure or force in this jurisdiction? It will depend on the nature of the “persuasion” applied by the psychologist. It may be that the psychologist gave professional emotional advice to both parties and therefore maintained a neutral role. It would be interesting to hear more about the meeting which took place just before the wedding and the recommendations made by the psychologist.

If this case were heard in this jurisdiction the most important question that should be asked is whether the parties had independent legal advice. If they did not fully understand the legal implications of the terms agreed then whether or not the psychologist was biased is unlikely to be relevant.

The outcome of this case will be early awaited worldwide but the lesson that should be learnt from this is that if you are going to have a pre-nuptial agreement to make sure you do it properly.

If you are considering entering into a pre-nuptial agreement and require legal advice please contact our specialist family team for advice on 020 7935 3522.

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