There are lots of stereotypes surrounding prenuptial agreements… some positive and some negative. The reality, however, is that a good prenuptial agreement can potentially benefit both spouses, while a bad one can potentially harm either one. Given just how substantial the impacts of your prenuptial agreement can be, it is essential that you have an experienced Hoboken prenuptial agreement attorney on your side before you sign your agreement.
A recent ruling from the Appellate Division court puts an even brighter spotlight on the vital importance of proceeding cautiously and knowingly before you sign a prenuptial agreement, as getting one of these agreements thrown out is very hard to do. In the case, R.S. was a twice-divorced man preparing for marriage to his third wife. R.S., apparently feeling he’d been “burned” before in divorce, told his bride-to-be that a prenuptial agreement was an absolute must before he’d marry her. Each spouse got independent legal counsel to review the proposed agreement. The wife’s attorney advised against her signing it but, on the eve of the wedding, she signed anyway.
Two decades later, the couple divorced. The wife asked the court to throw out the prenuptial agreement as unenforceable. The wife’s argument was that, if the judge allowed the agreement to stand, she would be left with a post-divorce standard of living that was far below the standard she enjoyed during the marriage. The judge, however, barred any evidence of the couple’s marital lifestyle in the hearing on the agreement’s enforceability.
The wife appealed but the Appellate Division court ruled that the exclusion of the marital lifestyle evidence was proper. This meant that the wife’s case failed, and the husband was entitled to the benefit of the terms of the agreement.
To understand why the husband won, it is important to identify what was in the prenuptial agreement. The prenup between R.S. and his third wife was clear that both spouses were, by signing, giving up their respective rights “to assert a claim against the other to maintain the marital standard of living.” That clause in the prenuptial agreement was a huge key to the husband’s success in keeping out the wife’s marital lifestyle evidence and arguments.
It is also important to recognize that the law has a very strong predisposition toward enforcing, rather than invalidating, contracts that two parties voluntarily entered into. The wife had voluntarily contracted for a divorce decided based on factors that did not include the marital standard of living. Once she knowingly and freely signed, she was stuck with that provision.
The only area where the wife was entitled to attack the agreement was to argue that enforcing the agreement would leave her without a “reasonable means of support.” Given the wife’s significant income at her post-divorce job as well as her very wealthy parents from whom she derived additional support, she had no basis for winning an argument about a lack of “reasonable means of support.”
A 2013 change in the law means it is now even harder to get a prenup tossed
If this wife had had evidence of a lack of reasonable means of support, she could have gotten the agreement thrown out. Today, it is even harder to get a prenuptial agreement thrown out. New Jersey amended its laws in 2013. Now, in order to get a prenuptial agreement thrown out, you generally need to show that you were not given the opportunity to access an independent attorney, you didn’t receive full and fair disclosures about property and finances, or that you did not sign voluntarily. Absent one of those things, the agreement is generally enforceable, even if it leaves you far below your marital lifestyle and even if it leaves you lacking a reasonable means of support.
A prenuptial agreement is contract like any other contract. In New Jersey (and in all the other states,) the freedom to make contracts is a very powerful one. Because of that, it is very hard to get a freely signed prenuptial agreement invalidated. Rather than fighting to get a bad prenup tossed, the better plan is to make sure from the start that the prenup you negotiate and ultimately sign is a good one. For the legal representation you need in creating your prenuptial agreement, reach out to skilled prenuptial agreement attorney Frank Marciano. Attorney Marciano, aided by his helpful support team, has been working for many years to help spouses and spouses-to-be to work out their family law issues, including prenuptial agreements. To set up a consultation, contact the office online or call 201.656.1000.