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A Pharaoh Way to Divorce: Prenups Ancient Egyptian-Style

The way that we live our lives has changed tremendously in recent years. Innovation has been so regular, so rapid and so remarkable that what was in vogue only a couple of decades ago is now almost regarded as ancient history.

That bewildering pace of development has blinded some people to the achievements of societies who really did exist thousands of years ago and yet still exercise an influence today.

I’m not just talking about the advances in art, architecture, agriculture and the sciences. Even family lawyers like myself can perhaps learn a thing or two from how marital collapse was handled in the land of the pharaohs more than 2,000 years ago, for instance.

We may think that we live in a more technologically sophisticated world with effective ways of resolving the differences of former spouses and how they go about dividing their assets without the need for bitter courtroom exchanges. However, our ancestors in Alexandria and forefathers in Faiyum had already devised the concept of the pre-nup.

Documents uncovered by Egyptologists and dating from the reign of a Late Period king called Nectanebo in 365 BC show how couples were making plans as to what would happen should their marriages end in divorce.

Delicate demotic script on one such scroll of papyrus even sets out the maintenance to be received by one bride-to-be - “1.2 pieces of silver and 36 bags of grain every year for the rest of her life” – if she and her husband fell out.

I believe that the discovery illustrates a couple of different but important things. Firstly, it shows that, no matter how refined we believe our practices to be, we cannot overlook the contributions of previous civilisations.

Also, Ancient Egyptians were not just skilled in putting up imposing and enduring monuments but capable in applying that same practicality when domestic arrangements broke down.

Some people currently look at prenuptial agreements with disdain, believing them to be an unromantic way to prepare for marriage.

What has emerged from the sands along the banks of the Nile shows that ordinary Egyptians living millenia ago actually appreciated the documents’ value in undoing the assets tying spouses together without complication.

With divorce accounting for the demise of more than 40 per cent of marriages today, it’s a lesson that many modern couples would do well to take on board.

A pre-nup isn’t only for the wealthy but is a sensible way for many individuals of taking the sensitivity out of separation and ensuring that it’s the pain of a long and awkward divorce which is consigned to history.

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