- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2011

LONDON (AP) - British divorce lawyers have words of warning for Prince William: Not all fairy tales have happy endings.

The prince is set to wed his longtime love Kate Middleton on April 29, but if history is any guide, divorce lawyers say the second-in-line to the British throne would be well advised to sign a prenuptial agreement.

“It’s an absolute statistical no-brainer that a prenuptial agreement would be highly beneficial in this case,” said divorce lawyer James Stewart from the firm Manches, which handled the multimillion divorce case between Madonna and director Guy Ritchie.

Britain’s royal family has been plagued by a string of failed marriages. Three of Queen Elizabeth II’s four children have been divorced, and William’s uncle on his mother’s side, Charles Spencer, has two ex-wives.

Prince William’s office declined to comment on whether the future king might sign a premarital contract.

Although prenuptial agreements are common in the United States, in Britain they remain rare for most couples _ never mind the royal family. British courts agreed to recognize such deals only in the last year after a slew of high-profile divorce awards gave London a reputation as the “divorce capital of the world.”

Stewart said Britain’s royals need to recognize that when it comes to divorce, they’re just like commoners under U.K. law. And with large amounts of royal wealth most likely tied up in trusts, which can be hard to get access to, it’s important to hammer out the details now just in case, he says.

“In the 21st century, there is a real need for any couple in the public arena to enter into a properly drawn up prenup,” Stewart said.

One need look no further than the very ugly _ and public _ split between William’s parents, Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The prince’s former financial adviser, Geoffrey Bignell, told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper in 2004 that Diana “took him to the cleaners,” and claimed that Charles handed over his entire personal fortune _ widely reported to be more than 17 million pounds ($27 million today) _ when their marriage ended after 15 years in 1996.

But it is by no means certain an ex-wife will clean up. Following her 1996 divorce from Prince Andrew after 10 years of marriage, Sarah Ferguson complained that her reported 800,000-pound ($1.3 million today) settlement was meager. Years later, she is believed to have hired Diana’s attorney to negotiate a much bigger divorce settlement after dealing with crushing debt.

But even that history doesn’t mean the royals will think twice: Charles is widely reported to have ignored legal advice and opted to go without a prenup when he wed his second wife, Camilla, in 2005.

While some say it’s tacky to talk about divorce at such a happy time as a wedding, doing so is a necessary evil, said Matthew Brunsdon Tully, a professor of family law at the London School of Economics and practicing divorce attorney.

Divorce can be costly, time-consuming, stressful and public _ all symptoms that a prenup can help alleviate, giving a sense of security to both sides, he said.

“A prenup might be seen as anathema to the idea that the marriage vow is supposed to be for life … but you can’t ignore the statistics,” said Brunsdon Tully. With divorce rates at all-time highs “it’s probably prudent of people to at least consider what might happen.”

So what’s at stake?

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