Couples use pre-nups instead of calling the wedding off

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Golfer Rory McIlroy and Danish tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki hit the headlines after calling off their wedding - days after sending out invitations. The couple are said to have separated amicably, after calling a halt to plans for a lavish New York wedding. It was a tough decision, but one expert has applauded it.

She says that many couples are too afraid to stop their wedding plans - and end up trying to use a pre-nup for damage limitation. This, she said, is a terrible idea.

Hard to halt

Marilyn Stowe, Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law, says that it can be incredibly difficult to halt wedding planning when it has picked up speed. She explains: "Wedding planning can be a social juggernaut – and a very expensive one at that. The cost of an average wedding is immense these days compared to just 20 years ago."

"If you get cold feet, how do you back out when the costs are have started to mount and the invitations have started to go out? Family pressure and expectations may be mounting. Many find themselves in a situation in which they are simply too scared or in for too much expense to back out."

Pre-nups to halt ceremony

Stowe has been approached by people about to get married who try to use pre-nuptial agreements as an alternative way to call a halt to the proceedings. She explains: "To get out of a looming wedding, impose terms you know the other won't accept. Insist on those terms and the wedding is sure to be torpedoed. I've seen this happen."

This is guaranteed to cause a great deal of heartache. By forcing the couple into a combative position over the pre-nup, they are simply ensuring that a wedding cancellation that was always going to be painful and expensive has the added element of anger and frustration.

Pre-nups for inevitable divorce

Alternatively, couples feel they have no choice but to go ahead with the wedding, so they want to use the legal agreement to try to protect their interests. She says: "When filled with foreboding over their big day, some people turn to their lawyer, tell them they know the upcoming wedding won't work out, and ask him or her to protect them from the inevitable divorce. I've seen this too. Brides have told me that even as they walked down the aisle they knew the marriage would be disaster."

But by going ahead when they know it will fail, they risk spending a fortune on a divorce, and losing many of the assets they have worked so hard for. Even with a pre-nup in place, they are bound to end the process far worse off than when they started. Stowe suggests that hiding behind a pre-nup is no way to protect anyone from a marriage they know is going to fall before it has even started.

Cancelling a wedding is expensive and embarrassing. At the moment, no wedding insurance policy in the UK will cover you for a change of heart (although one policy in the US offers this) - so you can expect to lose your deposits. However, the experts stress that going through with a doomed marriage is not a sensible alternative.