Prenuptial agreements are no longer exclusively associated with the rich and well known. Wealthy and not-so-affluent couples who want a structured agreement about asset division before heading into marriage frequently choose to sign prenuptial contracts.
A New York divorce court can reject a poorly-crafted prenuptial or ante nuptial agreement. Until recently, courts almost never dismissed prenuptial contracts for any other reason. A still-married Long Island woman, using a contract attorney, recently challenged her 1998 prenuptial and won.
A state Supreme Court decision favored the 39-year-old woman in 2011. A Brooklyn appeals court backed the ruling last month. The courts were convinced the wife of a man with an estimated net worth of about $20 million was a victim of fraud when she signed the premarital contract.
The unhappy spouse said her then fiancé spent months leading up to the wedding trying to get her to sign a prenuptial agreement. Four days ahead of the marriage ceremony, she agreed on the condition that the contract would be invalidated once the couple had children.
The man apparently consented although the promise was never contained in the written contract. The wife said her husband refused to destroy the prenuptial contract even after the birth of three children.
A family law judge might not have agreed that the wife was pressured to sign a contract through a false inducement. The validation of the prenuptial would have reduced the woman’s income to $25,000 annually. The estranged wife now plans to move forward with divorce and a claim on half the marital assets.
Some divorce attorneys believed the case was isolated while others thought it was a litigation “game-changer.” Certainly, the case means prenuptial agreements will be scrutinized more carefully than ever before.
Source: nbcnewyork.com, “NY Court Decision Voiding Prenup Sparks Legal Row,” Frank Ettman, March 12, 2013