Sweating the Small Stuff: How Diligently Tending to All the Details Can Be Essential to Having an Enforceable Prenuptial Agreement in Maryland

Statistical research says that as many as 80% of people of divorced people will eventually remarry. The bad news is that second and subsequent marriages have a greater than 60% chance of ending in divorce. What’s all that mean? It means that, before you embark on that second or subsequent marriage, it is wise to consider pre-marital planning — such as a prenuptial agreement — before you wed. An experienced Maryland family law attorney can help you go about taking all the necessary steps to protect what you’ve built up to this point in your life.

A fairly negotiated and properly executed prenuptial agreement can be a huge help if you and your new spouse-to-be both have substantial wealth. It can be of even greater value if you have amassed wealth and your spouse-to-be has not, as one recent prenuptial agreement case from Baltimore County helps to illustrate.

In the Baltimore County case, the husband was a man in his early 50s who owned a successful construction and refrigeration business. He’d been married once, having divorced after 25 years, and had four adult children. The wife was in her late 20s, had a 12-year-old daughter, and according to the court, “was employed at an adult entertainment establishment” when she met the husband.

Five years after they first met, the couple became engaged. Seven months after that, they welcomed a son together. Soon after the boy’s birth, the man approached his fiancée about a prenuptial agreement.

There are a lot of ways a prenuptial agreement can go wrong and end up with a judge declaring it void. One way is when the terms were so severely slanted as to be what the law calls “unconscionable.” Another is if the court decides that your spouse was the victim of fraud, duress, or coercion.

A strong way to avoid those outcomes is to ensure that both sides have a fair opportunity to review all proposals, as well as make changes and counter-proposals. Ideally, both sides will be represented by separate attorneys. If you’re the party in a superior financial decision, it may make business sense to pay for both an attorney for you and a different attorney for your spouse.

That’s what this husband did. The prenuptial agreement he and the fiancée signed was the product of approximately “five weeks of negotiations,” meaning that there was plenty of time for review and counteroffers. Additionally, each spouse was represented by independent counsel, although the husband paid for both attorneys.

These careful steps yielded a prenuptial that survived despite the wife’s attempt to nullify it after the pair divorced. The courts concluded that the contract’s terms were “more than fair,” and even gave the wife “property to which she would not have been entitled” without the agreement.

Both Spouses Having a ‘Meaningful Choice’ is a Key to Having a Valid Agreement

Additionally, the wife was not the victim of duress or coercion. She alleged that the husband “refused to bargain over contract terms.” These kinds of arguments only have the potential to succeed if the spouse seeking to defeat the prenuptial agreement has proof demonstrating that she lacked “meaningful choice.” In this case, the wife had an attorney, had the opportunity to demand changes, and actually procured changes to the agreement that benefitted her. She also was free at all relevant times to walk away. In that scenario, there is no absence of “meaningful choice,” which means that the prenuptial agreement is enforceable.

This husband’s success illustrates the importance of proper attorney involvement in any prenuptial agreement situation. Details matter a great deal in prenuptial agreement situations. Certainly, you want an agreement that properly protects you and the wealth you’ve built to this point in your life, but your prenuptial agreement is worth nothing if it isn’t legally binding and enforceable. If you’re contemplating a prenuptial agreement, get in touch with the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. One of our attorneys can help you ensure those dual goals of an agreement that meets your needs and also meets all of the law’s requirements for enforceability. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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