How Easy Is It To Invalidate A Pre-Nuptial Agreement In New York?

So, your fiancée insisted that you sign a pre-nuptial agreement before you wed.  Even though you did not particularly agree with everything in the agreement, you signed it, thinking you will just contest it if you get divorced.  Now, with a divorce pending, you want to invalidate the pre-nuptial agreement.   Guess what - you may be out of luck!

New York has a very strong public policy of holding parties to their contractual arrangements.   There is a heavy presumption that a deliberately prepared and executed written agreement manifests the true intention of the parties.    An agreement between spouses or prospective spouses may be invalidated only if the party challenging the agreement sustains the burden of proof, demonstrating that the agreement was the product of fraud, duress, or it was improperly executed.

To prove coercion or duress, you would have to establish that you were somehow pressured into signing the agreement.  The threat that “I will not marry you unless you sign this agreement” is not duress.  If both of the parties were independently represented by counsel and the agreement was the product of arm’s length negotiations, it may be difficult to prove that the pre- nuptial agreement was procured by duress.

At the time agreement is negotiated and signed, the parties should disclose their assets, liabilities, and income. Unless, you can prove, for instance, that your spouse deliberately misrepresented the extent of his assets to induce your agreement, it is unlikely you will be able to establish fraud.

Most agreements provide that the parties are only relying on the representations contained in the agreement, more importantly, that they are not relying on promises or representations not contained in the pre-nuptial agreement.   That is precisely why the decision reported in the New York Post, is an anomaly.

In this unique New York divorce case, the wife successfully challenged the pre-nup because:

He told me he would rip [the pre-nup] up as soon as we had kids,” Elizabeth, who has since had twin sons and a daughter, told The Post at her Old Brookville mansion.

“But he never did.

Shine details how the wife was coerced her into signing the pre-nup.

She claims he dropped the premarital bomb four days before their wedding day in 1998, leaving her with little time for a contractual dispute. She also told the court the agreement included promises her ex never intended to keep. Among those promises, she said, was that he would add her name to the deed of their Old Brookville home,

The New York Appellate Division found that the issue of the husband’s fraudulent misrepresentations was a question of credibility and declared that the wife’s testimony was "credible," "convincing," "unequivocal and consistent with "additional corroborative evidence," and that any "inconsistencies" in her testimony related to "insignificant" matters. By contrast, the defendant's "credibility was suspect," due in part, to his "patent evasiveness."

Even, the wife’s attorney concedes that “The decision “is unprecedented, vacating a pre-nup on the basis of a verbal promise,” even though a clause in the contract says there were no verbal promises.”

The bottom line, cases where the prenuptial agreement are invalidated are rare.   You cannot and should not count on a court to rescue you from the terms of a bad agreement. If you do not understand the agreement or do not agree with the contractual terms, do not sign it.   If you are being promised something that is not in the agreement, insist that it be included in the agreement.   If your future spouse tells you it is not necessary to put the “promise” in writing, well, maybe you should go into the marriage with your eyes wide open.

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