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Video: Should Kate Middleton sign a prenup?

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updated 4/4/2011 8:13:44 AM ET 2011-04-04T12:13:44

British divorce lawyers have words of warning for Prince William: Not all fairy tales have happy endings.

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The prince is set to wed his longtime love Kate Middleton on April 29, but if history is any guide, divorce lawyers say the heir 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 heir to the throne 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.

Vote: Should Prince William and Kate Middleton sign a prenup?

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.

Related: Sorry, Kate: Prince William won't be wearing a wedding ring

"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?

William stands to gain an inheritance from the queen, whose fortune was recently estimated at around 290 million pounds ($467 million) by the Sunday Times 2010 "Rich List." The second-in-line to the British throne also got a share of his Diana's nearly $34 million estate — the bulk of which came from her divorce settlement, but it is believed much of his money is tied up in trusts.

Middleton comes from an well-off family herself but any agreement would need to ensure she is looked after, keeping up her homes and her standard of living, experts said. It would most likely be generous to ensure the prenup is not challenged as unfair after a divorce.

Related: Prince William invites army widow to royal wedding

"They would want to make sure that things are done by the book to keep it out of the public arena," said Brunsdon Tully.

A confidentiality clause also would be a must, Stewart added, noting that "the last thing this family would want" would be a scintillating interview — akin to one given by Diana just before the divorce — that exposes the royal family's inner workings.

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"Kate is joining a family known as 'The Firm,' and every other employee of the royal household has a contract of employment which includes a fairly severe gagging clause," Stewart noted.

Other European royals have signed prenups. Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria signed a prenuptial agreement with her husband and former personal trainer Daniel Westling that says that he would only be entitled to half of the couple's private household possessions in a divorce — not Victoria's inheritance or her income.

Despite any alleged advantages, London-based celebrity divorce lawyer Raymond Tooth isn't convinced William and Middleton will sign a contingency plan. He noted that they have known each other for a long time, saying "it's not a whirlwind recent romance" at risk of suddenly falling apart.

Besides, Tooth thinks if a deal was signed, there would be rumors by now.

"It would have leaked out if there was one," Tooth said. "Nothing is secret anymore."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Vote: Should Prince William and Kate Middleton sign a prenup?

Photos: A royal couple's long courtship

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  1. William and Kate

    On April 29, 2011, Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, eight years after they first met at university. The prince popped the question five months earlier to his longtime girlfriend during a vacation to Kenya. Take a look at their top moments.

    Official wedding photo The online version of the royal wedding's official program includes a never-before-seen portrait of the couple, shot by Mario Testino. Testino also shot their official engagement pics. (Mario Testino / Art Partner) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A pre-wedding outing

    Kate Middleton, or the Duchess of Cambridge as she is known after the wedding, waves as she walks with Prince William in Darwen, England, on April 11, less than three weeks until the royal wedding. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Royal couple mania!

    Excited fans line up to see Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton arrive at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy in Darwen, England, on April 11. The prince was in the town to officially open the school. (Lindsey Parnaby / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Weather or not

    Heavy rain didn't prevent Kate Middleton and Prince William from thrilling the crowd that gathered to see them as they arrive at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy in northern England on April 11. (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A perfect flip

    Prince William looks on as Kate Middleton tosses a pancake during a visit to City Hall on March 8, 2011, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Indigo / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wedding blooms

    Britain's Prince William and his fiancee, Kate Middleton, speak to wedding florist Rachel Gibson during a visit to the Greenmount Agriculture & Food College, in Antrim, Northern Ireland, on March 8, 2011. (Paul Faith / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Remembering Christchurch

    Prince William looks on as his fiancée Kate Middleton signs the book of condolence in memory of those who lost their lives in the Christchurch earthquake at the New Zealand High Commission in London. (David Parker / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Romantic homecoming

    Prince William and Kate Middleton returned to the university where they met and fell in love on Feb. 25 with an official visit to St. Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. (Danny Lawson / WPA Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pouring some bubbly

    Prince William and his blushing bride-to-be Kate Middleton performed a bit of royal duty, making a rare public appearance in Anglesey, Wales to christen Trearddur Bay Lifeboat Station’s brand new lifeboat, the "Hereford Endeavour" on Feb. 24, 2011. (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Official engagement portraits

    The couple pose in their official engagement portraits, taken by photographer Mario Testino in the Cornwall Room at St James's Palace in London on Nov. 25, 2010. (Mario Testino / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Engaged at last

    William and Kate pose for the media at St. James's Palace in London on Nov. 16, after they announced their engagement. The couple are to wed April 29, 2011. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Diana's ring

    This close-up shows that the engagement ring Prince William gave Kate Middleton was the one that had belonged to his mother, Princess Diana. The ring is an oval sapphire surrounded by diamonds. (Paul Hackett / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Royal couple

    Months of speculation about William and Kate's engagement grew more intense when the couple attended Harry Meade and Rosie Bradford's wedding at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul on Oct. 23, 2010, in Northleach near Cheltenham, England. (Indigo via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Chic chapeau

    In an eye-catching hat, Kate Middleton attends the wedding of Nicholas van Cutsem and Alice at The Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks on Aug. 14, 2009, in London. Middleton had been named to Vanity Fair's international best-dressed list in July 2008. (Indigo via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Wedding guests

    Prince William and Kate Middleton attend the wedding of friend Chiara Hunt in Salzburg, Austria, on Sept. 6, 2008. Two years and two months later, it was announced that the prince and his longtime girlfriend had finally become engaged. (Ikon Pictures via Rex USA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A jolly good time

    Prince Harry, Prince William's girlfriend Kate Middleton, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall laugh together as they watch the Order of the Garter procession at Windsor Castle on June 16, 2008. (Tim Graham / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Together again

    Prince William and Kate Middleton at a Royal Air Force graduation ceremony held at RAF Cranwell, England on April 11, 2008. Middleton's accompanying the prince as he was awarded his RAF wings was a clear indication that the couple had reconciled after a widely reported split a year earlier. (Michael Dunlea / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A day at the races

    Kate Middleton attends a horse race at the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, western England, in this March 16, 2007, photograph. (Eddie Keogh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. On the slopes

    Prince William and Kate Middleton were spotted skiing in Klosters, Switzerland, on March 19, 2008, one of a number of public appearances together that showed that they had reconciled after a reported April 2007 breakup. (Rex USA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. They're off!

    Prince William and Kate Middleton on the first day of the Cheltenham Race Festival in Gloucestershire, on March 13, 2007. One month later, the media reported that Middleton and the prince had broken up. (Stephen Lock / Rex USA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Separate seats

    Prince Harry (front left) and Prince William (on Harry's left) are clearly enjoying a performance at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium in London on July 1, 2007. So is Kate Middleton (upper right corner). At the time, rumor had it that William and Kate had reconciled after their split in April 2007, but they sat separately, insisting that they were "just good friends." (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Sports fans

    Prince William and Kate Middleton attend a rugby match in London in this Feb. 10, 2007, photo. (Richard Heathcote / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Paparazzi prey

    Photographers snap pictures of Kate Middleton as she leaves her Chelsea home on Jan. 9, 2007, her 25th birthday. The growing media attention that she attracted at this time prompted warnings to the press from Prince Charles, Prince William and Middleton's lawyers. As a result, two newspaper groups decided to cease publishing paparazzi photos of Middleton. (Solo via ZUMA Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Lady in red

    Kate Middleton arrives at the Sovereign's Parade at The Royal Military Academy in Camberley, west of London, on Dec. 15, 2006. (Ben Gurr / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Guest of honor

    Kate Middleton is seen at the wedding of Laura Parker Bowles and Harry Lopes at St Cyriac's Church, Lacock on May 6, 2006, in Wiltshire, England. (Tim Graham / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Model behavior

    Kate Middleton models on the catwalk at a student fashion show attended by Prince William on March 26, 2002, in St. Andrews, Scotland. The prince reportedly paid 200 pounds to sit in the first row and watch Middleton model a sheer dress over a black bandeau and bikini bottoms. (M Neilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Heads on a platter

    In November 2006, British retailer Woolworths showed a china plate representing Prince William and Kate Middleton as a commemorative gift for their wedding. Four years later the prediction finally came true when the royal family announced that the couple were engaged. (Woolworths via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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