March, 15, 2013, Lansing, MI- Too many people prenuptial agreements are sensible ways to protect assets in case a marriage isn’t destined to last. A prenuptial is a sound way to ensure your and your family’s future is secure and offer financial stability. Once a prenuptial is signed it is a contract that is legally etched in stone, and can take a great deal of expertise to undo. But a recent New York Supreme Court decision will have an impact on how prenuptial disputes are handled in Michigan and the rest of the country.
The case involved a New York woman, Elizabeth who in 1996 was arranging her marriage to real-estate mogul Peter Petrakis, worth $20 million. Just four days before their marriage, Peter asked Elizabeth to sign a prenuptial agreement, which in the event of their divorce awarded her a yearly spousal settlement of $25,000 for each year they were married and nothing more, according to ABC News.
Elizabeth initially refused to sign the agreement, but she was convinced by Peter who gave her a verbal promise that once they had children he would rip and the prenuptial agreement and also put her name of the tittle for the dream house they moved into after their honeymoon.
Even after their first child was born Peter never tore up the prenuptial nor put named his wife as co-owner of their house. To Elizabeth the prenuptial was like a dark cloud hanging over their marriage finally leading to its demise.
Elizabeth then began to challenge the prenuptial and after several years a numerous court cases later she was finally triumphant.
Generally, courts do not honor verbal agreements in prenuptial disputes and having one challenged on the basis that spouse was pressured to sign the agreement. However earlier this week in an unprecedented decision a New York Appellate Court overturned the prenuptial agreeing that Petrakis had fraudulently obtained Elizabeth’s signature through coercion– making a verbal promise he never kept.
Elizabeth’s attorney explained why court’s decision was ground-breaking, “If you are too greedy and marginalize a spouse, it’s a lot easier for an Appellate Court to agree with a legal argument that would invalidate a prenup than it otherwise might be if that prenup was fair. It’s not a given that the prenup is going to rule at the end of the day.”
Prenuptials are hard to challenge, but when the NY Supreme Court found in favor of Elizabeth Petrakis it set a precedent that other attorneys can use in cases where they are challenging a prenuptial agreement.
While a prenuptial is a great way to protect assets, a spouse should not force another to sign it nor should it be an unfair agreement. Before a spouse signs a prenuptial they should have their attorney look over the agreement and make changes if necessary. Elizabeth didn’t have that opportunity and other men and women who have been asked to sign prenuptials are often denied the time to carefully consider prenuptials.
When you have any prenuptial or divorce-related need, consulting an attorney is not only wise but can be beneficial. Michigan-based family law attorney Stuart Shafer will gladly help you with any family matter whether it pertains to prenuptials, child custody, or divorce.