Radmacher, Granatino and the missing translation/Übersetzungen beim Notar

I’ve mentioned the Radmacher/Granatino case before: Prenups in the UK/Eheverträge in GB. It was regarded as an exciting case, because it decided that prenuptial contracts could be valid in England and Wales. But since the parties entered into their contract in Germany and were not British, although their married life was in England, I wasn’t sure how much effect it might have. (The marriage should have been governed by English law, but the fact that the contract was entered into in Germany affected the court’s decision).

At all events, the contract giving Mr Granatino no claims in the case of divorce was upheld. I have now seen an article (in German) by a German notary commenting on the fact that Mr Granatino did not get a translation of the contract, although the German notary told him to. Reading the case report, one does not get the impression that it would have changed his decision to enter into the contract, and I presume that the court thought he had made his own bed and had to lie in it, so to speak.

The decision can be found at www.bailii.org. Here’s part of it:

# At the time the parties met in November 1997 they were both living in London. The wife comes from a very rich German family, whose wealth is derived primarily from two very successful businesses in chromatography, filtration and the processing/refinement of paper, and the manufacture of paper. The husband comes from a family which is well-off, his father having been a senior executive with IBM, at one time in charge of its European operations. He now resides in London for tax reasons, but retains property in Antibes. When the couple met the husband had been working in London for about 2 years with JP Morgan & Co, and was earning about £50,000, which was a substantial sum at that date, particularly given his age, and which had increased to about £120,000 by the time the ante-nuptial agreement was executed. They became engaged in June 1998 and were married in November 1998. They made London their home.

# It was the wife who suggested that the parties should enter into an ante-nuptial agreement. Although the judge was sure that the wife wanted her husband to love her for herself, the wife emphasised her father’s insistence, because she felt it made her seem less insensitive to her future spouse, given that the terms excluded all his potential rights (even in times of crisis). The wife did not make it obvious that she personally demanded it as a precondition of marriage. The judge found that the husband was eager to comply because he did not want the wife to be disinherited, he wanted to marry her, and he could not perceive of circumstances where he would wish to make a claim.

# The wife’s family decided that this agreement would be drawn up in Germany by a notary, Dr N Magis, who had undertaken other work for the family. The instructions to Dr Magis came originally from the wife’s mother on 6 July, 1998, who told him that the marriage was to be in London in the autumn and that neither of the parties wished to make any claim on the other in the event of divorce. Dr Magis pointed out that such a deal might leave a young mother with children in difficulty but he was informed that the daughter’s income was some DM500,000 a year plus other monies managed by their father and so despite the future son-in-law’s excellent income “even in the worse case scenario there would be no risk to their daughter”. On the same day, 6 July, 1998, Dr Magis spoke by telephone to the wife. She confirmed the facts given by her mother. It was agreed that the draft was to be prepared as quickly as possible in order to give the husband “an opportunity to prepare for the conclusion of the contract” which was to be signed on the first weekend of August. Dr Magis was insistent that the husband had sufficient time so that he could take advice if he wished and fully understand the implications of what he was signing.

# On 17 July, 1998 Dr Magis sent by fax to the wife a draft of the agreement, under cover of a letter in which he wrote: “You wanted to discuss the content of the agreement with your future spouse and have it translated into a language convenient for him”. In the draft, which was in German, there was a clause for the parties to insert the approximate value of their respective assets; but the wife telephoned Dr Magis that day and said that the clause should be deleted and that she and the husband would separately notify each other of the value of their assets.

# A second draft was produced by 20 July, 1998 and it was sent to the wife’s father. On 23 July, 1998 the wife telephoned Dr Magis and told him that she had discussed the draft with her father and he wanted additions in relation to company shares – specifically that the husband should not be able to inherit them directly or “circuitously via their children”. It was agreed that this would be dealt with by the wife’s drawing up a will. A final draft version was made available to the wife in London at about this date.

# The judge found that it was highly unlikely that the wife showed the husband the first draft, or that she informed him about her mother’s or father’s involvement in the drawing up the terms of the agreement. But the judge rejected the husband’s evidence that he did not see the draft at all. The judge found that the wife showed him the final draft which was available on about 24 July, 1998, about one week before the signing ceremony. The basic terms were made clear to the husband, but the husband was not made aware that Dr Magis wanted him to have a translation to give him a proper opportunity to consider the precise terms and see a lawyer.

# On 1 August, 1998 the parties attended at the office of Dr Magis near Düsseldorf. Their meeting with him lasted for between two and three hours. The husband told Dr Magis that he had seen the draft agreement but that he did not have a translation of it. Dr Magis was angry when he learned of the absence of a translation, which he considered to be important for the purpose of ensuring that the husband had had a proper opportunity to consider its terms. Dr Magis indicated that he was minded to postpone its execution but, when told that the parties were unlikely again to be in Germany prior to the marriage, he was persuaded to continue. Dr Magis, speaking English, then took the parties through the terms of the agreement in detail and explained them clearly; but he did not offer a verbatim translation of every line. The parties executed the agreement (which bears the date of 4 August, 1998) in his presence.

# Not only did the husband not take advantage of Dr Magis’ wish to postpone execution so that he could take independent legal advice, but in the 4 months or so following the execution of the agreement at the beginning of August 1998 until the marriage in London on 28 November, 1998, the husband did not take the opportunity to seek independent advice. .

Actually Mr Granatino was earning a lot less as a Ph.D. student at Oxford and he wanted some ancillary relief so he could afford a house where his daughters could visit him. He wasn’t asking for half his wife’s property.

The question now is why the husband did not get independent legal advice. The notary allowed himself to be persuaded to help the couple enter into the contract, and he used English, which both understood, to go through the contract, if not in full detail.

The article by Dr. Jörn Heinemann, a German notary, commenting on this is entitled Wer nicht übersetzt, bleibt dumm (If you don’t translate, you will stay stupid). The author concludes:

So oder so ähnlich ist es schon vielen Notaren ergangen. Die Bemühung, fremdsprachige Beteiligte schon im Vorfeld einer Beurkundung und nicht erst im Verhandlungstermin mit dem Inhalt des Rechtsgeschäfts vertraut zu machen, scheitert oft am Desinteresse des Betroffenen oder am Wunsch des anderen Vertragsteils, die rechtlichen Konsequenzen des Vertrags zu verharmlosen.

(Many German notaries have had this experience – they tried to arrange for parties who were not German speakers to get information in advance, but either the party was uninterested or the other party wanted to play down the legal consequences of the contract).

I also often wonder about notaries who do the English translation themselves. It’s common for a notary to claim to speak wonderful English, but I’m not convinced they always do.

(Article found via Forum, the journal of ATICOM, a German translation association).

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