Prenuptial Agreements Aren’t Always Valid & Enforceable on Long Island
Validity of Prenuptial Agreement after Recent New York Appellate Division Case
For many couples on Long Island, having a Prenuptial Agreement drawn up before their marriage is a basic assumption of their relationship. Prenuptial agreements are an attempt, prior to marriage, to arrange the consequences of marriage and/or its dissolution. Prenuptial agreements can include terms of maintenance, ownership and division of property, as well as testamentary provisions. However, for the prenuptial agreement to stand up in court post-marriage and dictate the terms of dissolution, it must be found valid.
General Validity of Prenuptial Agreements
As previously mentioned, prenuptial agreements may contain provisions for the amount and duration of maintenance, commonly known as alimony or spousal support. Generally, for the court to enforce the prenuptial agreement, it must find the terms reasonable and fair. When specifically considering maintenance, the court will look to whether the waiver or the duration/amount of maintenance will make a person a charge of the state.
Unconscionability of Prenuptial Agreement
In January of this year, the New York Appellate Division for the Second Department heard Taha v. Elzemity. The case was an appeal from the trial court, holding that a prenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable. The facts of the case are as follows: shortly before the parties married in 2007, they entered into a prenuptial agreement. The agreement included provisions that stated each party waived the rights to the other’s separate property, each would keep separate bank accounts, and the husband’s maintenance obligation would be limited to one lump sum payment of $20,000. The husband had been practicing medicine since 1987 and was earning approximately $300,000 per year. The wife, who had worked in a part-time capacity prior to the marriage, had left the work force and focused on raising the party’s two young children.
When the husband initiated a divorce action in 2013, the wife brought a motion to set aside the prenuptial agreement as unconscionable. Although the trial court found the agreement to be valid, the Second Department reversed, holding that an agreement must be found unconscionable if it “is one which no person in his or her senses and not under delusion would make on the one hand, and no honest and fair person would accept on the other.” The court went on to further state that the agreement may be unconscionable at the time of signing, or, at the time of final judgment.
Here, the wife had sustained her burden in establishing that the prenuptial agreement was unconscionable at the time the action was before the court. If the court were to enforce the agreement between the parties, it was very likely that the wife would have become a charge on the state. She was unemployed, and had been for many years, was largely without assets and had been the children’s primary caregiver since their birth. Further considering the fact that the husband was making approximately $300,000 annually, a single lump sum payment of $20,000 was not fair or reasonable. Therefore, the court granted the wife’s motion and set aside the prenuptial agreement as unconscionable.
What Does This Mean for You?
If you are considering having a prenuptial agreement drawn up prior to your marriage, it is important that you recognize that life can take a different path than you expect. You can contract for certain provisions in your prenuptial agreement, but if the result of those provisions could cause your spouse to become a ward of the state (requiring them to apply for benefits they would not need otherwise), the agreement may be set aside by the court. This is one of the reasons why having an experienced attorney draw up your agreement so important. In order to preserve the provisions in your agreement, it needs to be properly drafted.
Need Help With a Prenuptial Agreement? Contact Us
If you are looking to protect your interests prior to your marriage, we can help. Contact our Long Island Divorce & Family Law firm at 631-629-2545 to set up your free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys who can help you to draft your prenuptial agreement.
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