Will a Judge Enforce My Prenup?
Few people get married with the expectation that they will divorce. Nevertheless, thousands end up in Delaware County divorce court every year, and the prenuptial agreement they quickly signed before saying “I do” could come back to haunt them.
Pennsylvania has detailed rules for dividing marital property and determining whether one spouse can receive spousal support. However, Pennsylvania also allows people to change these rules and sometimes sign away their rights altogether.
If you signed a prenuptial agreement and are now facing divorce, you are probably curious about whether a judge will enforce the agreement. The chances are very good that the judge will.
Your Prenuptial Agreement Must Meet Certain Formalities
Prenuptial agreements are like wills in one respect—they must have certain formalities to be legal. In particular, your prenup must:
- Be in writing
- Signed by both parties
- Accompanied by a statement of assets for both parties, as well as other financial information. A full and fair disclosure is necessary so each spouse understands the financial lay of the land.
In our experience, any prenuptial agreement drafted by a lawyer will meet these requirements. Of course, you might have tried to draft your own to save on legal fees, which means the agreement might be invalid. Be sure to show a copy to your Delaware County divorce attorney for review.
You Must Have Entered the Agreement Voluntarily
If the agreement satisfies the state’s formalities, then it is still possible it is invalid in how it was procured. In particular, each party must enter the agreement freely and voluntarily, so any fraud or duress could render it invalid.
Our courts have upheld prenuptial agreements in surprising situations. For example, in one case, the court held that a wife was not coerced into signing a prenuptial agreement that was sprung on her the night before the wedding, with the husband threatening to call off the wedding if she didn’t sign. The wife was also pregnant at the time and frightened. The court focused on the fact that she had a lawyer who told her not to sign it, but she went ahead anyway.
Instead, duress probably involves physical force or threats of physical force. The presence of legal counsel is also an important consideration. If you looked over the agreement with an attorney, then it will be hard to convince a court you signed under duress.
Fraud will probably only exist where your spouse misrepresents their finances or they lie about the type of document you are signing. Someone who says, “Here, sign this credit card agreement” and then slips a prenuptial agreement in front of you to sign has committed fraud.
The Agreement Cannot be Unconscionable
Your agreement cannot be so lopsided as to be totally unfair. Again, this is a high bar. One spouse can certainly sign away a right to spousal support and agree to a small amount of property upon divorce. Basically, the agreement cannot render one spouse destitute and in need of public assistance. However, the agreement can heavily favor one spouse and still be legal.
Worried about a Prenup? Contact a Delaware County Divorce Lawyer
Barbara Flum Stein & Associates has guided many men and women through a Pennsylvania divorce. If you have questions about a prenuptial agreement, contact us today. Our Media spousal support attorneys can analyze your situation and help you identify whether your agreement will stand up in court. Contact us today.