In Maryland, courts scrutinize attacks to prenuptial agreements carefully. They interpret prenups as they would any other contract between two consenting adults. In a recent case, a twenty-six-year-old woman had married a father of three. In 1988 when they married, she was working in a daycare center for minimum wage. The man was a successful construction company owner, not yet divorced with $2 million in assets.
Once the man divorced his former wife, he told the woman he wouldn’t marry her unless she signed a prenuptial agreement that his attorney had prepared, waiving any interest in certain items of his property. She signed it four days before their wedding, though later on the pair disagreed about when he had given it to her.
The prenup stated that both parties had the opportunity to consult counsel. The agreement listed various property that the wife would not have any ownership interest in. However, the agreement didn’t mention certain items of property, such as the man’s IRA.
Once the parties had married, the wife left her daycare job and over time, gave birth to three children. The husband placed the home under title to both him and his wife. He sold several assets listed in the prenup in order to pay the mortgage on the marital home. They also acquired other properties, and both partners were listed on the titles.
About twenty-two years later, the husband closed his company and retired. Both spouses accused each other of adultery. The husband filed for divorce and asked that the prenuptial agreement be enforced. The wife filed an answer asserting the agreement was invalid.
The circuit court found the agreement valid and enforceable. The couple entered into a separation agreement that incorporated the terms of the prenup. The court granted the husband a divorce. The wife appealed the lower court’s decision to enforce the prenup.
She argued that the husband had not fully disclosed his property interests and assets when she signed the agreement and that she didn’t have enough time to consult an attorney about the prenup. She also argued that it was an “unconscionable” agreement because it was one-sided and she hadn’t understood what she was waiving.
In a prior case, an appellate court had not upheld a prenup because the husband inadequately disclosed his assets. It found that the wife’s knowledge in that case was so indefinite, she couldn’t be considered to know what she was waiving. In this case, the wife claimed that her knowledge was also indefinite. She argued that she had no way to calculate the value of the company listed in the prenup when she signed the agreement.
The appellate court explained that a prenup was a contract, subject to the same rules of interpretation as other contracts. It also explained that the issue was whether there was overreaching. There is a two part test to determine overreaching. First, the court must ask, was the benefit to the person attacking the agreement in line with what she relinquished so that the agreement was fair. Second did the person attacking the agreement enter into the agreement freely and understanding what she had waived.
In this case, though the husband didn’t truthfully disclose all his assets, the agreement did set forth all of the husband’s assets except for one. The nature of the assets should have alerted the wife as to what she was giving up.
There was no indication that if the wife had asked for additional information, the husband wouldn’t have given the information to her. Moreover, the wife was not asked to waive alimony in the prenup. The appellate court found that the wife had gotten something substantial in giving up the rights to property listed in the prenup. It was also evident that the wife had entered into the agreement freely. She was not prevented from seeking advice of counsel despite having three or four days to do so. The appellate court also found that the agreement was not unconscionable and upheld the circuit court’s decision to enforce it.
Whether you are trying to attack a prenuptial agreement or you want to uphold a prenuptial agreement, an experienced Maryland family law attorney can make a world of difference. You should consult your own attorney before signing a prenuptial agreement as well. Contact our office via the online form for a legal consultation.
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