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.
Coercion involves an act of compulsion that overcomes the recipient’s free will and causes his or her conduct to not be of his or her own volition. It involves compulsion by economic, moral, or physical force, or by threat of force. Coercion takes place when a spouse uses undue influence or moral or economic force to compel the other spouse to execute a prenuptial agreement under circumstances which demonstrate that the signing spouse did not act of their own volition.
In the case at bar, the Florida Court of Appeal ruled that the prenuptial agreement was invalid because the Wife was experiencing emotional and physical pain from having an abortion two weeks prior to the date of the execution of the prenuptial agreement, and because of the Husband’s threat that unless the Wife signed the prenuptial agreement, she would be unable to immigrate to the United States. Additionally, the prenuptial agreement was presented to the Wife two days prior to the wedding, and a few days prior to her appointment at the embassy to start the process for her to emigrate to the United States.
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