Worth $19 Billion and Newly Married - Did Zuckerberg Ask for a Pre-Nup?

22/05/2012 13:01 BST | Updated 21/07/2012 10:12 BST

This week the world's media has reported on the marriage of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook.

Following facebook's stockmarket flotation last week, Mr Zuckerberg is estimated to be worth $19 billion (£12billion).

Given the vast wealth that Mr Zuckerberg brings to the marriage, fellow billionaire Donald Trump has publicly raised the question of whether the couple signed a pre-nuptial agreement.

If the couple have not signed a pre-nuptial agreement then in the event of divorce, the division of the couple's wealth would be governed by California's "community property" regime. Mrs Zuckerberg would be entitled to half of all assets and income accrued during the marriage, but would have no claim over wealth built up before the wedding.

By way of comparison, there is no concept of strictly delineated 'community property' in English law. If Mrs Zuckerberg were able to establish jurisdiction in England, for example after living here for one year, the English courts here would have a very wide discretion to reallocate assets from one party to the other regardless of the origin or legal ownership of the assets or when they were acquired.

The court would not ignore the fact that Mr Zuckerberg's wealth was acquired prior to the marriage, but that wealth would not be strictly ring-fenced as it might be under Californian law. The longer the marriage, the more likely such pre-acquired wealth would be deemed to be a part of the "matrimonial pot" and therefore available for division.

That an aggrieved spouse may "forum shop" for the most financially advantageous jurisdiction in which to issue their divorce proceedings is something that wealthy individuals from around the globe should be aware of.

The solution for Mr Zuckerberg would have been to have a pre-nuptial agreement to set out how property and finances would be dealt with on divorce. Such an agreement would be a decisive factor in the event that any divorce proceedings were to take place in England.

Until relatively recently, the English courts gave little consideration to such agreements, but over the past few years they have come to play an increasingly significant role in the outcome of cases.

In the Supreme Court case between Mrs Radmacher and Mr Granatino in 2010, Mrs Radmacher successfully enforced her pre-nuptial agreement in the English courts - she kept her £100million inheritance intact and set a new legal precedent in the process.

Contrary to some reports, the case did not make nuptial agreements strictly binding, but as long as certain conditions are met, the existence of the agreement is highly likely to influence the outcome of the financial aspects of the case.

Pre-nuptial agreements are certainly not romantic and there is no easy way for the subject to be approached with a partner. However, we all take out insurance against things we hope will never happen. Perhaps Mr Zuckerberg should have considered an agreement to deal with the possibility of marriage breakdown?