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Be Careful to Avoid Coercion When Seeking Spouse’s Signature on Prenuptial Agreement

wedding-cake-decorations-.jpgPrenuptial agreements are extremely valuable tools to establish financial boundaries and protect assets each spouse brings into the marriage. To be legal, both spouses must make a genuinely voluntary decision to sign the agreement. Forcing your future spouse to sign a prenuptial agreement in the middle of the night mere hours before your wedding is a recipe for failure, as it raises a strong inference that your spouse signed under duress, and not voluntarily. A husband discovered this in a recent case, where the 2d District Court of Appeal recently voided the couple’s prenuptial agreement, ruling that the husband’s timing raised a clear issue of coercion.

A man and his girlfriend scheduled their wedding for July 13, 2002, in Las Vegas. Less than a month before the wedding, he presented a draft of a prenuptial agreement to her. An attorney advised her not to sign, because the agreement waived her right to claim a statutory elective share, receive alimony or share in assets acquired during the marriage. Near midnight on the eve of the wedding, the man arrived at the Las Vegas airport, handed the girlfriend another copy of the agreement, and demanded she sign it and get it notarized. She complied.

When the wife filed for divorce in 2009, the husband asserted that the prenuptial agreement controlled the terms of asset distribution. The wife sought to set aside the agreement, arguing the court should void it because the husband improperly coerced her to sign it. The trial court sided with the husband, concluding that the wife waited too long to bring her claim of coercion, but the court of appeal overturned that ruling.

The court of appeal court explained that, in cases of coercion, the spouse seeking to invalidate the document must show the existence of coercion. The other spouse must then establish that the agreement was signed voluntarily. In this case, the wife provided ample evidence that the husband placed her under duress. The husband demanded that the wife execute the agreement mere hours before a wedding that the couple had traveled cross-country to hold, and had planned for months. The husband, on the other hand, offered no proof that the wife’s signature was truly voluntary.

The court also rejected the trial court’s conclusion that the wife waited too long to claim coercion. The court of appeal could locate no ruling anywhere that required a spouse to mount a legal challenge the execution of a prenuptial agreement while the couple remained married. To the contrary, the court agreed with decisions from Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington, which decided that creating such a rule would go against public policy, because the litigation would disrupt the marriage.

Ensuring you have a prenuptial agreement that will survive a court challenge involves more than just what’s on paper, but also how you go about securing your future spouse’s signature. For assistance in making sure that the prenuptial agreement you want will pass legal scrutiny, consult the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. They can offer you extensive experience and keen knowledge of the law, guiding you through the process of completing your prenuptial agreement.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Prenuptial Agreements: Important for Every Florida Marriage, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 6, 2013
Deion Sanders’s Prenuptial Agreement Debate, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 22, 2013