Overturned prenuptial agreement draws attention, comments

In 1998, a successful real estate developer commanding a net worth of many millions of dollars and his to-be bride executed a prenuptial agreement. It provided for the soon-to-be wife to receive $25,000 per year. Additionally, the premarital contract stipulated that neither party could rely on oral statements outside the agreement in an attempt to circumvent its provisions at a future date.

Those specifics are precisely why discussion of the agreement is now front and center in national news stories, following a New York appellate court’s upholding of a lower court’s ruling that voided the agreement based on fraud.

The estranged wife argued in court that she sustained several months of constant pressure from her husband to sign the document before giving in before their wedding. She stated that she agreed to do so only after receiving a promise from him that he would destroy the document after the couple had a child.

They now have three.

With the court ruling in hand, the woman now plans to ask for half of her husband’s assets, which would amount to approximately $10 million. The ruling has a number of divorce commentators questioning whether it is simply a narrow decision based on the claim of fraudulent inducement in a specific case or whether it might spell a precedent-setting outcome.

“Anyone trying to set aside a prenup is going to cite this case,” said the woman’s attorney.

Not everyone agrees, though, that the case will have wide significance, with one commentator noting that that the appellate court was careful in narrowly confining its ruling and in emphasizing that the matter revolved around an issue of credibility, with the wife simply winning on that point.

If anything, the case serves to underscore that any party contemplating execution of a premarital or postmarital contract work with a family law attorney experienced in negotiating and drafting such agreements.

“A good prenup will last,” says one observer of the New York case.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “NY court decision voiding prenup sparks legal row,” March 12, 2013

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