Many New York couples sign premarital agreements before their wedding occurs. Knowledgeable family attorneys usually recommend prenuptial agreements as a method of settling financial issues before it is too late. Unhappily, some prenuptial agreements don’t age well. For any number of reasons, one or both parties may discover that the terms of the agreement are like an old pair of shoes: they just don’t fit anymore. New York law provides several methods for invalidating all or part of a prenuptial agreement, but none of the methods is foolproof. The various methods are summarized below.
Failure to follow formalities
New York law requires that an enforceable prenuptial agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties before the wedding takes place. The agreement must also be signed by a notary public. The failure to abide by these formal requirements will render a prenuptial agreement unenforceable. However, most prenuptial agreements are drafted by experienced attorneys, and the various formal requirements are rarely overlooked.
Lack of time to review the agreement
A prenuptial agreement will not be enforced unless both parties have had sufficient time to review the agreement and consult with an attorney of their choice before they sign it. A close relative of this ground for invalidation is the use of pressure by one party or the other to coerce the other person to sign the agreement. Coercion can take the form of threatened financial sanctions or a threat to withdraw from the engagement. In these cases, the court views the acts of the party trying to enforce the agreement as depriving the person against whom enforcement is sought of freedom of mind to accept the terms of the agreement.
Failure to read the agreement
Occasionally, the coercion of one party may prevent the person who is the object of the coercion from reading the agreement. Again, if one party is prevented from reading the agreement before signing it, that party is not exercising free will in signing the agreement.
In some marriages, the passage of time will demonstrate that one or more terms of the prenuptial agreement are unconscionable. If one party can prove the unconscionability, the agreement—or at least that portion deemed to be unconscionable—will be invalidated.
Getting experienced legal help
Anyone caught in a dispute over the enforceability of a prenuptial agreement may wish to seek the advice of a knowledgeable divorce lawyer.