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California Court Addresses Validity of Premarital Agreements

In many divorce cases, the parties’ rights and obligations are delineated by a premarital agreement. Premarital agreements are typically enforced unless either party can show just cause for setting aside the agreement. Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth District of California discussed the issue of what constitutes sufficient grounds for rendering a premarital agreement unenforceable due to unconscionability. If you entered into a premarital agreement prior to your marriage and are contemplating a divorce it is essential to speak with a trusted California divorce attorney regarding how the agreement may affect your rights.

Factual and Procedural Background

Reportedly, the husband and the wife, who are both architects, began corresponding in 1995, when the wife lived in Russia, and the husband lived in the United States. Later that year, the wife began working as an architect in Houston. She completed all of her architectural drafting in English. In the winter of 1995, the wife moved to California and became pregnant with the husband’s child. She gave birth to a daughter in September 1996. After the birth of her daughter, the wife wished to remain in the United States.

It is alleged that the couple decided to wed, but the husband stated he wished to enter into a premarital agreement prior to getting married. Specifically, the husband was concerned about having to pay spousal support if he and the wife divorced, and about the wife leaving the country and gaining rights to his property. The husband and the wife met with a paralegal and signed a boilerplate premarital agreement in October 1996. The paralegal advised the couple that the agreement had been drafted by an attorney and had them execute a document acknowledging that she was not giving them legal advice. In part, the agreement stated that in the event of a divorce, neither party would owe the other party spousal support.

It is reported that nineteen days after the execution of the agreement the parties wed. In December 2010 they separated after fourteen years of marriage. During divorce proceedings, the wife argued that the premarital agreement should be set aside for multiple reasons. The trial court held that the premarital agreement was valid and that pursuant to the agreement the wife was not entitled to spousal support. The wife appealed.

Validity of a Premarital Agreement

On appeal, the court addressed numerous issues, including whether the premarital agreement was valid. The wife argued that the premarital agreement was unconscionable because she was not represented by an attorney when it was executed. The court noted that when the issue of whether a premarital agreement is unconscionable is to be decided by the court on appeal, the court must consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the prevailing party.

In the subject case, the court found that it was indisputable that the trial court judge ruled correctly. Specifically, the court noted that the law requires a person against whom enforcement of a premarital agreement is sought be represented by independent counsel, or knowingly waive the right to representation. The court found that the evidence of record showed that the wife waived her right to be represented by counsel via the acknowledgment she signed at the time of the execution of the agreement.

Further, the court held that there was not a significant disparity in the couple’s wealth so as to create an inequity of power, and the agreement was not overly complex so as to create confusion. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Consult an Experienced California Divorce Attorney Regarding Your Case

While premarital agreements are designed to make a divorce less complicated, sometimes they have the opposite effect. If you signed a premarital agreement prior to exchanging marital vows and now wish to end your marriage, it is important to consult an experienced California divorce attorney regarding your case and the implications of your agreement. Ethan M. Weisinger is a knowledgeable attorney who will work zealously to help you seek a successful outcome under the facts of your divorce case. Mr. Weisinger can be reached through the form online or at 925-258-2020 to schedule a free and confidential meeting regarding your case.

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