Challenging a Prenuptial Agreement
Taking the time to make a comprehensive review of finances before marriage is a safe and smart step to warding off future sources of disagreement. If a couple decides to tackle this issue in the event of a divorce, they would formalize the terms in a document called a prenuptial agreement. While contemplating the possibility of divorce and how to handle property division and the payment of spousal support (alimony) is not a pleasant conversation, it does take out the element of surprise and exposes any concerns one may have. Further, these agreements usually resolve these two primary issues in divorce cases in advance, making the divorce process, if necessary, generally easier and faster to complete. However, this does not mean a prenuptial agreement cannot be challenged once a divorce has begun. A prenuptial agreement is a contract, and its validity can be challenged on a number of grounds. A recent example of this involves the divorce of the founder of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America from his second wife of 25 years that includes allegations his now ex-wife is seeking to violate the terms of a prenuptial agreement a court ruled was valid. A general discussion of what a prenuptial agreement can and cannot cover, as well as some grounds for challenging the validity and/or enforcement of such an agreement, will follow below.
Prenuptial Agreements Generally
In essence, prenuptial agreements are contracts that couples make in contemplation of marriage, which outline the disposition of property and any obligation to pay alimony upon the occurrence of a specified event. While divorce is the most common event that triggers the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement, separation, death or other event specified by the parties can also determine when the terms may be enforced. The agreement does not become effective unless the parties marry, and must be in writing and signed by both parties. Importantly, prenuptial contracts cannot contain provisions relieving a party from child support obligations, as this right belongs to the child, and not a current or potential parent. Beyond that limitation, the parties are generally permitted to make any arrangement about the division of property and payment of alimony they desire, as long as the arrangement is legal and does not result in an exception that will be explained below.
Grounds to Challenge
Prenuptial agreements are typically used to limit how much property a spouse would be entitled to in a divorce, and are particularly valuable if a party is bringing property he/she wishes to keep separate from the marriage, usually for the benefit of a child from a previous relationship or other family member. However, it is against public policy in Florida to enforce a prenuptial agreement that would leave one spouse with such a limited amount of financial resources that he/she would qualify for public assistance. In that instance, a court is permitted to order the payment of alimony in an amount that would avoid eligibility. In other words, the law will not permit a spouse to be completely disowned and left destitute. In addition, prenuptial agreements signed very close to the date of the marriage can be challenged on grounds of duress by arguing that a party felt forced to sign the document or risk the wedding being called off. Another circumstance that could justify invalidating a prenuptial agreement is if a party can prove that the agreement was under fraudulent pretenses related to financial disclosures. A party cannot effectively waive a right to something if he/she is provided inaccurate or false information. Finally, a misrepresentation about a material term of the agreement, such as woman who claims she intends to have children while knowing she is medically unable, may also be grounds for invalidating a prenuptial agreement.
Contact an Orlando Family Lawyer
Prenuptial agreements are serious matters that should only be entered into after discussing the legal implications with an experienced family law attorney. These agreements routinely require a spouse to give up important rights, and it is important to ensure the arrangement is still generally fair and adequately protects your interests. The Orlando law firm Donna Hung Law Group has extensive experience with pre- and post- nuptial agreements, and is available to discuss your concerns. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 to schedule a confidential consultation.