Articles Posted in Prenuptial Agreements

A prenuptial agreement was successfully challenged in a Florida Court of Appeal case captioned Bates v. Bates.  The facts of this case are as follows.  In May of 2001, the Husband and Wife met in Colombia through a singles website.  Husband was a forty-one year-old pilot.  Wife was eighteen years old.  Husband didn’t speak Spanish.  Wife spoke little English.  The parties used a translator during their initial meetings. They used a chaperone to accompany them on their dates.  In June 2001, the Wife got pregnant, and the Husband paid for her to have an abortion.

As a precondition to getting married, the Husband required the Wife to execute a prenuptial agreement.  Sixteen years after the parties were married, the Wife filed for divorce, and sought to invalidate the prenuptial agreement.  The trial court found that the Wife was in severe pain and distress from the abortion when she signed the prenuptial agreement.  Additionally, the trial court found that the Husband required the Wife to either sign the prenuptial agreement on the day before the wedding, or there was not going to be a wedding.  The Wife was also told that if she did not sign the prenuptial agreement, she was not going to be permitted to immigrate to the United States.

The Wife challenged the prenuptial agreement based on duress and coercion.  Duress is defined as a condition of mind that is produced by improper external pressure, that destroys a party’s free will, and that causes a person to perform an act that is not of his or her own volition.  Duress involves an act that is involuntarily performed as a result of coercion or improper conduct.  In the context of prenuptial agreements, a party’s external pressure must cause the other party to lose his or her free will at the time the agreement is executed.  Duress occurs when a spouse threatens to take an action against the other spouse for his or her own economic advantage, such as where a spouse threatens to harm the other spouse’s reputation for their own gain.  Even if the wrongdoer has the legal right to take the adverse action, it can still constitute duress.

In contesting prenuptial agreements, parties should either establish fraud, duress, overreaching or that the agreements are unfair or make unreasonable provision for spouses. In determining whether agreements are unfair or make unreasonable provision for spouses, courts look at the parties relative situations, their ages, health, education, financial status.

In Hahamovitch v. Hahamovitch, the Florida Court of Appeal recently stated: “A party may challenge prenuptial agreements in one of two ways. The first ground for setting aside an antenuptial agreement is satisfied where a spouse establishes that the agreement was the product of “fraud, deceit, duress, coercion, misrepresentation, or overreaching.” Casto v. Casto, 508 So. 2d 330, 333 (Fla. 1987)…The second ground for vacating a prenuptial agreement contains multiple elements. Id. To challenge the antenuptial agreement on the second ground, ‘[i]nitially, the challenging spouse must establish that the agreement makes an unfair or unreasonable provision for that spouse, given the circumstances of the parties.’ Id. When claiming that an agreement is unreasonable, the challenging spouse must present evidence of the parties’ relative situations, including their respective ages, health, education, and financial status. Id. ‘ [A] trial court may determine that the agreement, on its face, does not adequately provide for the challenging spouse and, consequently, is unreasonable. In making this determination, the trial court must find that the agreement is ‘disproportionate to the means’ of the defending spouse.’ Id. ‘This finding requires some evidence in the record to establish a defending spouse’s financial means.’ Id…‘However, ‘[t]he element of fairness should, of course, be measured as of the time of the execution of the agreement.’ Del Vecchio v. Del Vecchio, 143 So. 2d 17, 20 (Fla. 1962); see also Francavilla v. Francavilla, 969 So. 2d 522, 526 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007)’”

To speak with a Palm Beach, Florida, attorney about contesting or enforcing a prenuptial agreement, contact Matthew Lane & Associates, P.A. at (561) 363-3400.

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