Today more than ever before, the two people who enter into a marriage represent two individuals with pre-established lives, careers, and wealth. Given that reality, spouses (or spouses-to-be) today have a greater need for prenuptial or postnuptial agreements than ever before. As with any contract, success when it comes to these agreements involves careful attention to detail to ensure you end up with (a) what you thought you agreed to, and (b) a valid and enforceable contract. In doing that, seeking out representation from an experienced Maryland prenuptial/post-nuptial agreement lawyer can help you to achieve those goals.
Last fall, this blog covered a Court of Special Appeals (now Appellate Court of Maryland) decision related to a couple’s post-nuptial agreement and the enforceability of a $7 million infidelity penalty. Ultimately, the court concluded that there was nothing illegal about the contract and, as a result, it was enforceable and the husband owed the penalty.
This post concerns itself less with details of that specific post-nuptial agreement and more with the things that any couple considering a post-nuptial agreement needs for success.
Avoiding Fraud, Duress, or Coercion
If you’re seeking to execute a post-nuptial (or prenuptial) agreement with your spouse, beware of “duress,” “fraud,” and “coercion.” Maryland courts generally will analyze a post-nuptial agreement very similarly to the way they assess any other contract… and one of the clearest ways to invalidate a contract is by showing that there was fraud, coercion, or duress.
That all goes back to the fundamental legal requirements of a valid contract, which include evidence of a legitimate “meeting of the minds” and an agreement entered into knowingly and voluntarily by both sides. If there was fraud, then the defrauded spouse could not possibly have made an intelligent/knowing decision about the agreement, because the true nature of the agreement was hidden from them.
If there was coercion or duress, then that also is a deal-breaker because that means the agreement was not executed voluntarily by the coerced/defrauded spouse. As an example in the realm of prenuptial agreements, a husband who tells his wife-to-be during a wedding dress fitting on the eve of the wedding ceremony that she must sign a prenuptial agreement or else he will call the whole thing off is very possibly an instance where there is a lack of sufficient voluntariness, which may allow the wife to invalidate the agreement down the road.
Additionally, a spouse seeking to set up one of these agreements needs to ensure that the other spouse receives basic fairness, such as getting adequate time to review the agreement and also a reasonable opportunity to consult legal counsel. Note that, if you want to provide counsel for your spouse (and yourself,) it is wise to retain a different attorney for your spouse than the counsel you use yourself.
Another thing all contracts must have is something the law calls “consideration.” In this context, that means an “exchange of something of value.” In a lot of contracts, this might mean that one party hands over a sum of money as consideration. In general, Maryland courts consider a spouse’s promise to remain in the marriage and not pursue an immediate divorce as sufficient consideration for a post-nuptial agreement.
When you’ve decided it’s time for a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement, knowledgeable counsel is crucial. The experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help. We can guide you through the steps to reach an agreement that both protects your rights and is legally binding. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.