What You Should Know About Prenuptial Agreements

Marriage is a deeply personal relationship, but it is also a legal and financial arrangement as well. Many engaged couples understandably may focus more on the personal aspects of the relationship and wedding planning, and may not devote enough attention to the legal and financial consequences of the marriage relationship. It is important for couples to understand how marriage affects their legal rights and their property interests.

It may seem unromantic to discuss legal and financial matters while planning a wedding. In reality, though, entering marriage with a full understanding of each partner’s financial situation and core values can reduce the potential for later conflict and increase the likelihood the marriage succeeds. Contrary to popular opinion, premarital agreements do not cause marriages to fail. If a marriage does end in divorce, though, a good prenuptial agreement can preserve valuable rights, simplify the divorce process, and save both spouses money and stress.

Creating a Valid Prenuptial Agreement

Prenuptial agreements are useful in a variety of circumstances. They can be especially valuable for couples who have accumulated significant wealth before marriage or where there is a significant disparity in wealth between the intended spouses. They also can be essential if one or both intended spouses have children from a prior relationship, and want to clarify the property rights of the children, as well as those of the new spouse, in the event of death or divorce.

In fact, many couples create a prenuptial agreement as part of their estate plan. But you need not be wealthy or have children from another relationship to benefit from a well-crafted prenuptial agreement. For instance, a prenuptial agreement can simplify how property rights are determined and administered, can address alimony needs, business interests, and future attorney’s fees, as well as streamlining court procedures in the event of divorce. While prenuptial agreements can future-proof for a multitude of challenges, a prenuptial agreement cannot dictate child custody or support arrangements for any children the couple have together—or may have in the future.

While the mere act of creating a prenuptial agreement can be worthwhile, causing the couple to share information and communicate about important legal and financial issues, it is also essential that the prenuptial agreement be enforceable by the courts. Maryland law specifies a few requirements in order for a prenuptial agreement to be enforceable. Specifically, the agreement must be in writing, signed by both parties, and executed prior to the marriage. (An agreement executed after marriage is called a postnuptial agreement, which has different legal requirements and consequences from that of a prenuptial agreement.) Notarization of the signatures is not necessary, but certainly helps prevent future disputes over the validity of a signature.

When drafting a prenuptial agreement, both parties should make a full and fair disclosure of their finances before signing the agreement, and both should have the opportunity to consult their own attorney regarding the agreement. It is important to note that one attorney cannot represent both intended spouses in the preparation of a prenuptial agreement, as that would be a conflict of interest for the attorney. It is also wise to negotiate, draft, and sign the agreement well before the wedding date. Doing so reduces the chance that one party will later claim that an agreement was signed under duress. And finally, the terms of a prenuptial agreement should be essentially fair, and not produce an unconscionable disparity in outcomes for the spouses in the event of divorce.

Challenging a Prenuptial Agreement

A properly prepared prenuptial agreement can be useful to couples who wish to clarify their rights and responsibilities during marriage and in the event of divorce. Circumstances can exist, however, in which the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement would be inappropriate or unfair; in those situations, one spouse may need to challenge the validity of the agreement.

A prenuptial agreement may be challenged on the following grounds:

  • Fraud
  • Duress
  • Coercion
  • Mistake
  • Undue influence
  • Incompetence
  • Gross unfairness (unconscionability)

The person who is challenging the enforceability of the agreement has the burden of proving that it should not be enforced; this is often difficult to do. If a prenuptial agreement is challenged by a spouse, the court will examine the circumstances in which the prenuptial agreement was prepared to see if the parties made sufficient disclosure of their finances, or if they were dishonest or overreaching in their dealings with one another during negotiations, or if one party was pressured into signing the agreement. Moreover, the court will also look at the basic fairness of the agreement, both at the time of its signing and at the time of attempted enforcement.

How We Help with Your Prenuptial Agreement

Marriage can affect your legal and financial rights in ways you do not anticipate. At Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield, we believe it is best for couples to begin their lives together with honesty, communication, and clarity. With decades of experience in Maryland family law, we have helped many clients negotiate and execute prenuptial agreements drafted for their unique needs.

As experienced litigators, we have successfully challenged and enforced prenuptial agreements. Our extensive background in litigating family law disputes helps us analyze what makes a prenuptial agreement vulnerable to challenge, and how to ensure that agreements we prepare are enforceable if challenged in a trial.

Located in Potomac, Maryland, we invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual situation and learn how we can help you with your prenuptial agreement needs.