Can Premarital Agreements Be Broken?
The purpose of a premarital agreement is fairly straightforward—to provide guidance for how a separation should be conducted if a marriage ends in divorce. Due to its nature, most couples don’t think much of such agreements unless they are actively considering a legal separation. At that moment, it can be incredibly relieving to have such details outlined in advance, especially if the situation between you and your spouse has become contentious. However, depending on the terms of the agreement, there may be questions about whether everything outlined is still relevant or enforceable. To fully understand the limitations of a premarital agreement and under what circumstances the contents may be voided, it’s important to familiarize yourself with a little background regarding what these agreements are and why they exist.
Are Agreements Necessary?
For starters, it is not uncommon to wonder if creating a premarital agreement is even necessary. No one goes into a marriage expecting its dissolution, and as such, it can seem counter-intuitive to enter into a premarital agreement before formalizing your union. We also don’t expect to be involved in terrible accidents or pass away while young, and yet it doesn’t prevent us from preparing with the appropriate estate planning documentation. Setting aside the time to enter a premarital agreement ensures that if your union should dissolve, the process of divorce will be as painless and straightforward as possible. That being said, the terms within a divorce agreement are limited to what they can cover.
What Do They Cover?
In California, premarital agreements can cover such topics as spousal support, the designation of property, and inheritance rights. These are important topics for every couple to discuss; however, they can be especially relevant for couples who have many assets before getting married or who already have children from a previous marriage. For instance, you can ensure that said children will be provided for in the event of a divorce, despite not being from this marriage. Other benefits of a premarital agreement include helping provide you with peace of mind as you take on the difficult task of combining two lives. For example, deciding to move in with your partner can be less daunting if you reclassify the residence as communal property instead of separate property in your premarital agreement.
Agreements Have Limits
At the same time, premarital agreements do face certain limitations. Those choosing to enter into such agreements cannot waive their rights to the benefits from certain employee plans, nor can you attempt to counter the law. This prevents any clauses from detailing how child custody should be determined because legally, custody matters are ultimately settled by the court. However, couples are allowed to agree on some of the more financial aspects of childcare. Furthermore, California does not take spousal fault or misconduct into account when assessing matters of support or division of property. This means that adding infidelity clauses to the premarital agreement would not be legally enforceable. Despite this, it is still possible for a premarital agreement to become void.
- Courts consider duress. When determining whether a premarital agreement should be upheld, California courts generally consider three factors: duress, unconscionability, and misinformation. Duress describes a situation involving threats, violence, or other constraints. Within the context of premarital agreements, this would apply if there was sufficient evidence to indicate that the agreement was signed by an unwilling party who was forced to do so. For example, if one party suddenly refused to go through with the wedding unless their partner signs the agreement, with the planned date of the nuptials only days away.
- Unconscionability. The next factor is unconscionability, which refers to when something is overwhelmingly in favor of one party over another. This does not mean that an agreement where you’ve determined that one person will retain ownership of the larger assets, such as a residence or a business, will automatically be considered unconscionable. There are many factors to consider when writing a premarital agreement, and every case is different. However, it would be very unusual to see an agreement where one party is given the entirety of the assets while the other has waived any rights to spousal support. There are likely other factors at play in such a scenario, enough that the courts would opt to invalidate the agreement and examine the case more closely.
- Misinformation. Finally, the third factor is the presence of misinformation. Essentially if there is evidence that one of the parties was in any way misled, that would invalidate the agreement. This could be about undisclosed assets, lies about income, and misleading explanations of any rights that were waived. If both parties are not fully informed of all the facts when making the agreement, then it is fraudulent, making it void in court.
On occasion, there are more clerical reasons that could overrule the enforcement of a premarital agreement. These include incorrect filing, errors in the paperwork, and the timing. In California, couples are required by law to wait for a minimum of seven days after signing the agreement to get married for their agreement to be considered valid.
Work With an Experienced Team
Whether you believe you have sufficient grounds to challenge the agreement or are facing a challenge from your partner, the court’s decision will be based on what is indicated by the evidence available. That’s why you must work with a knowledgeable legal team that can utilize their experience and resources to strengthen your claims. At Bickford Blado & Botros, we have dealt extensively with cases regarding premarital agreements and can ensure that you are equipped with everything necessary and properly represented in court. Even if your case does not fall under one of the scenarios described above, it may still be possible to contest the validity of your premarital agreement, depending on your circumstances. Talking through the specifics of your case will allow us to offer you the necessary legal guidance to decide how best to move forward. Get started by contacting us today via our website, or give us a call at 858-793-8884.
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