Breaking a Prenuptial Agreement in Court

Your spouse files for divorce, so you schedule a meeting with an attorney. On your way out the door, you remember you signed a prenuptial agreement. You find your copy among your important papers and bring it with you to the lawyer, who is able to sift through the legal language to determine that the contract is heavily weighted in your spouse’s favor. If the court honors your prenup, you’ve got a hard road ahead. What your attorney needs from you are facts that would suggest grounds to invalidate the agreement. These include:

  • Duress — You really didn’t sign freely and voluntarily, because your spouse put pressure on you and didn’t give you time to think it over. The classic example is the groom who thrusts a prenuptial agreement in front of the bride at the rehearsal dinner and declares, “If you don’t sign, the wedding is off!” Under the pressure of canceling her wedding at the last minute, a bride would probably sign anything short of a criminal confession.
  • Fraud — The agreement does not contain the terms that were explained to you, because your spouse deceived you about what the prenuptial agreement said. This argument is more likely to work when the couple did not negotiate the terms, and when an unsophisticated spouse relied on the word of a spouse who has a far better understanding of contracts and finances. Courts may be especially wary when a foreign-born spouse is not fluent in the language of the prenuptial agreement.
  • Lack of disclosure — If the spouse who puts forth the agreement did not fully disclose finances, the law presumes the other spouse did not have full knowledge of the consequences of signing and did not freely surrender rights to undisclosed assets.
  • Lack of representation — Minnesota law looks closely at marital agreements that are not the product of traditional negotiation where each party has independent legal counsel. You do not have to have shown your proposed agreement to an attorney, but you must have had the opportunity to do so. If you did not show your prenuptial agreement to an attorney, the court could conclude it is more likely that duress, fraud or misrepresentation occurred.
  • Unconscionability — Even when a contract is explicit about its terms, a court can invalidate it if the terms of the contract are so unfair that enforcement would shock the conscience of a reasonable person. In divorce, the court is loath to issue orders that unjustly enrich one spouse while causing financial hardship to the other.

A prenuptial agreement negotiated in good faith well advance of the wedding is generally ironclad. So, it’s important to have experienced counsel before you sign any marital agreement.

If you’d like advice on how your marital agreement might impact your divorce proceedings, schedule a free consultation with our family law attorneys at Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A.

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