A premarital agreement is a contract that you enter into before marriage that can dictate what will happen in the event that you ever end up divorcing. Some premarital agreements may spell out individual obligations that parties have over the course of the marriage, but most of these types of agreements are designed to protect non-marital assets that each spouse has going into the marriage, as well as to protect income and inheritances that may be earned or received during the course of the marriage. A premarital agreement can make divorces much simpler and easier for all involved, provided the agreement is enforced.
In some cases, however, one of the spouses will seek to have the premarital agreement invalidated and thus not enforced during the divorce. Whether or not a premarital agreement is invalidated is decided on a case by case basis since there are circumstances in which a premarital agreement may not meet the minimum legal requirements to be enforceable.
When is a Premarital Agreement Invalid?
A premarital agreement may be invalid if there was something wrong when the contract was created or if there is something wrong with the terms of the agreement. For example, some possible reasons why a premarital contract may be invalidated include:
- The agreement was signed under duress. If the premarital agreement was presented to the bride or groom an hour before the wedding with all guests assembled outside and signing was a condition of going forward, this is a clear example of duress. Any time one of the spouses feels forced or coerced into signing the agreement and doesn’t sign 100 percent of his or her own free will, the agreement can be signed on the basis of duress.
- There was fraud involved in the signing of the agreement. Both parties signing the agreement must have all material important facts and all information they need to know before signing. This means the spouses must exchange information about their income and assets. If one party failed to disclose information or lied to the other (including lies by omission), the agreement can be invalidated.
- The agreement terms are invalid. If there are terms in the contract that go against public policy, they won’t be enforced. For example, every child is viewed as having the right to be supported by both parents. Neither parent can contract away a child support right in a premarital agreement, so any provisions waiving child support wont’ be valid. Agreement terms that are ridiculous for the court to try to enforce, such as a provision related to the frequency of marital relations, are also not usually going to be considered valid and enforced by the judge.
- The agreement was badly drafted. Agreements need to be in writing and make sense. If the agreement was poorly written or if any promises were made orally, they either won’t be enforced or may be too difficult to enforce since the court won’t know what the contract was supposed to guarantee.
To ensure that your agreement is enforceable, it is best to have both parties represented by an attorney when the agreement is drafted and signed. If you are involved in a divorce and there is a dispute over the enforceability of the premarital agreement, it is essential to have a lawyer representing your position and arguing your case for or against enforcement.