Why the Court May Not Uphold Your Prenup
If you signed a prenuptial agreement before marriage, chances are that it will be enforceable in the event of a divorce as almost 10% of Americans have these agreements. If something seems unfair about it, the presumption will be that the agreement is valid, and the court will uphold it. However, there are certain instances in which a prenuptial agreement may be unenforceable.
No Pressure Allowed
A prenuptial agreement is like any other contract, and the same reasons why a court would decline to enforce a contract would hold true here. One of the biggest reasons why these agreements would be unenforceable is that a party was pressured to sign it under duress. While one spouse may greatly want the other spouse to sign a prenuptial agreement, he or she cannot cross a line when it comes to pressuring the other spouse. This would include threats and other legal pressure.
Too Much Pressure
Parties are free to insist on a prenuptial agreement before marriage, but the circumstances under which it is signed can determine whether it is enforceable. For example, if there was a large investment in the wedding and one spouse tells the other out of the blue two days before the big day that there will be no wedding without a prenuptial agreement, that could be viewed as undue pressure. The more the parties rush to sign the contract, the more likely it is that a court would see the prenuptial agreement as being the product of pressure.
Accordingly, the parties must be given time to read the prenuptial agreement before being asked to sign it. If they are not given the opportunity to review all of the provisions, they are not able to fully evaluate their legal rights.
Additionally, prenuptial agreements that are so one-sided as to be oppressive may not be enforced. This is what is known as an unconscionable agreement, and courts will try to find a way to let the victimized party out of the agreement. If the agreement is so one-sided that one party gets all of the assets while the other side emerges broke, this is the hallmark of an unconscionable contract.
Under these circumstances, courts may try to reform the agreement somewhat in order to give the spouse enough that it becomes fairer. If you are in the position of signing a prenuptial agreement, you should be careful about overreach. If you are in the process of a divorce with a prenuptial agreement, carefully scrutinize the terms to make sure that they are equitable in some way. While not every prenuptial agreement needs to give each spouse 50%, they need to at least have some measure of fairness.
Another reason why a court would decline to enforce a prenuptial agreement is due to fraud. In this context, fraud is the failure to disclose all assets and liabilities at the time of the agreement. If you are signing a contract, you must make full disclosure beforehand, and the failure to do so can invalidate the entire contract.
Note that fraud could lead a court to strike down the entire agreement and not just the assets that were not disclosed. Of course, the court could always just divide the newly discovered assets, too. If you have a signed prenuptial agreement, make sure that you compare the assets that are listed against all of the assets that you learned about during the course of the marriage. Take a careful and exhaustive mental inventory of every asset or statement that you saw while you were married and give an exhaustive review of the contract.
Courts usually do not like it when there is a contract in which one party takes advantage of another. They will usually try to find some sort of equitable grounds to change the contract or not enforce it to make life fairer for both sides. While you cannot count on this in a divorce hearing, it is one way to get relief from an onerous agreement.