In some cases, Orange County couples signed prenuptial agreements before they were married, and after the divorce, one spouse discovers that the terms of the agreement are grossly unfair. Can the agreement be invalidated by a judge?
The answer to the question is “yes – sometimes.” This post will summarize the various reasons that have been used in California to invalidate a prenuptial agreement.
Two formal requirements are imposed on all premarital agreements by statute: the agreement must be in writing, signed by both parties before the marriage occurs, and witnessed by two adults.
Any prenuptial agreement that does not comply with these requirements is invalid. However, because most prenuptial agreements are drafted by experienced lawyers, these formal requirements are rarely violated.
Agreements obtained by coercion or fraud
A more persuasive reason for invalidating a premarital agreement is proof that the signature of the party against whom enforcement is sought was obtained by fraud or coercion.
An agreement is deemed to be the result of a fraudulent act if the party who is attempting to enforce the agreement concealed or misrepresented a material fact in order to compel the other party to sign the agreement.
Most often, this type of fraud consists of hiding the details of one party’s financial affairs, either inflating assets or concealing large liabilities, or both.
Coercion usually consists of one party making a threat to compel the other party to sign the agreement. These threats may include a threat to withdraw from the engagement or a threat to impose some type of financial penalty if a party refuses to sign the agreement.
Another type of duress is proved by showing that the party attempting to invalidate the agreement was deprived of a reasonable opportunity to have the agreement reviewed by a competent attorney.
Lack of competence to execute the agreement
A party who was under the influence while signing the agreement may have lacked the mental capacity required to make the agreement legally binding.
Extreme or unfair provisions
In California, a premarital agreement will be invalidated if it is proved to be ridiculous or unfair. An agreement will be unfair if it imposes unreasonable requirements on one party, such as a prohibition on alimony or child support.