When you decide to enter into a prenuptial agreement or a marital settlement agreement, there are several critical phases. There’s the phase where you and the other party negotiate the terms of the agreement, and you work to ensure that all the terms adequately protect your interests. There’s also the phase where you and the other party execute the agreement, and you work to ensure that the document you sign matches the bargain you struck during the negotiation phase. Finally, there may be a phase where you have to litigate to enforce the agreement and get the benefit of the contract you signed. At each of these phases, your chances of getting the fairest possible outcome can be enhanced by having legal representation from an experienced Maryland spousal support (alimony) lawyer.
That’s because, at any phase, things can go astray from what you wanted… and executed.
For example, there’s the alimony case of X.L. and H.L., a couple who, in March 2016, worked out a prenuptial agreement. In that document, both spouses agreed to waive the right to receive alimony in the event of separation or divorce. They married one month later.
Thirteen months after that, they had worked out another agreement: a settlement agreement. Like the prenuptial agreement before it, the settlement agreement said that both spouses waived the right to seek or receive alimony.
In 2018, the husband filed for divorce. The wife filed a counter-complaint requesting, among other things, “pendente lite alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and/or permanent alimony.” (Pendente lite alimony is a type of temporary support that a spouse can receive during the period between the filing of the divorce petition and the final judgment of divorce.)
The wife also filed a request asking the judge to throw out the prenuptial agreement and the settlement agreement. She asserted that the husband procured her signatures on the agreements using fraud, duress, and undue influence. The trial court decided there wasn’t enough evidence to justify invalidating the agreements. Nevertheless, the court awarded the wife pendente lite alimony of $3,000 per month.
The Legal Presumption that Helps Strengthen the Agreement You Both Signed
The appeals court, however, ruled that the wife was not entitled to alimony. In Maryland, the law presumes agreements like the settlement agreement this couple signed in 2017 to be valid unless the spouse opposing an agreement’s enforcement proves that the agreement was “unjust or inequitable” on its face.
During the litigation in the trial court, the judge never declared the prenuptial agreement or the settlement agreement to be null and void. The judge also never ordered that either document should be set aside. Even in the absence of an express ruling declaring that the agreements were valid and enforceable, the presumption of validity remained in place and made both documents entitled to enforcement.
Section 8-103 of the Maryland Family Law says that courts may not modify an agreement’s alimony provisions if the agreement includes an express waiver of alimony. Both of these documents had that waiver and both remained presumptively valid. Based on that, the court lacked the legal authority to award any kind of alimony.
Whether you’re considering a prenuptial agreement or a marital settlement agreement, and whether you’re at the negotiations phase, the execution phase, or the enforcement phase, you need the right legal team on your side. The experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help. Our team has helped countless spouses who needed alimony, as well as those who properly and legally negotiated for no alimony. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.