FARMING POLL 2015 - DATA: Justice Minister may put prenups on legal footing

Pat O'Donovan, Timoleague with his horse Mike looking forward to a good days ploughing at the annual Timoleague Ploughing match.

The Government is expected to initiate a fresh review of prenuptial agreements "within weeks" ahead of possible changes to the law to give them a legal footing.

It comes after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald met with farming groups who had voiced concerns over the transfer of land to younger generations amid worries that farms could be split up and sold off in the event of a son or daughter’s divorce.

Three-quarters of farmers are in favour of prenuptial agreements being recognised in law, according to an Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll.

Farmers questioned for the survey were asked if, in the context of a reported rise in divorce in rural Ireland and an increasing trend for prenuptial agreements, such agreements should be recognised under Irish law.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

In response, 75% of those questioned said they backed prenuptial agreements being recognised in law — a rise of 2% compared with the findings from last year’s poll.

It has emerged that Ms Fitzgerald is likely to initiate a fresh review of prenuptial agreements, with the possibility that an Oireachtas committee could be asked tohold hearings on the issue.

A department source said the minister had told both the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and the Irish Farmers Association that it was up to them to produce evidence to reflect what they claimed was the growing level of concern in farming families.

There has been a growing number of inter-generational farm households around the country, where farms have been transferred on to a son or daughter while the older generation remain living into retirement.

FARMING POLL 2015 - DATA: Justice Minister may put prenups on legal footing

The ICMSA and the IFA have stressed the importance of succession — something they feel is threatened if a divorce results in a farm being split up or sold off.

However, the department source also indicated that any review would also need to ensure any potential change to the law on prenuptial agreements would not disadvantage either party in a divorce settlement and it would be Constitutionally sound, given it stresses proper provision for both partners in a settlement.

Use of an Oireachtas committee to hear evidence on the issue is being considered.

Today’s poll shows that support for giving legal backing to prenuptial agreements was above 70% in every age group apart from those aged 65 and older; even there, 52% said they were in support of prenups getting official legal recognition. The highest levels of support were among the 35 to 44 age group, at 79%, and the 45 to 54 age group, at 80%.

Support was also high among regular Mass-goers, with 71% backing the proposal. Support was higher among those who do not attend Mass regularly, at 78%.

FARMING POLL 2015 - DATA: Justice Minister may put prenups on legal footing

There is currently no legislation on prenuptial agreements and their enforceability in law, but ICMSA president John Comer said any proposal to amend the law to formally recognise prenuptial agreements would be welcome.

“The clarity we’ll gain will give us a solid basis for individuals to obtain the necessary legal and financial advice. We certainly think that the legal status of prenuptial agreements should be clarified. It’s not fair to have a situation where family farms that took generations to build and assemble and in which all the members have a huge emotional stake can be left in any kind of legal limbo and formal recognition of freely entered prenups would certainly help avoid that.”

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