One family law concept with which many people are undoubtedly familiar — perhaps thanks to television shows and celebrity gossip magazines — is the prenuptial agreement.
In general, a prenuptial agreement is a legally binding document setting forth the rights and expectations of each party concerning such important legal matters as property division and spousal support.
However, did you know that in most states, prenuptial agreements are subject to rather stringent execution and/or filing requirements that can render them void if not followed correctly.
Consider a recent case out of the state of New York, where the Court of Appeals — the highest court in the state — recently ruled that a prenuptial agreement issued a decade earlier was invalid over what appeared to be an otherwise minor paperwork error.
According to the facts of the case, a wife filed for divorce from her husband in 2007 after ten years of marriage. Here, the parties discovered during the course of the ensuing legal proceedings that the prenuptial agreement they executed prior to their marriage was missing a legally required statement indicating that the husband had proven his identity to the notary.
Consequently, the wife moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the prenuptial agreement was invalid under the applicable section of New York’s Domestic Relations Law. The husband responded by submitting an affidavit from the notary in which he swore that while he did not remember this couple specifically, he typically asks couples to provide the requisite identification.
The presiding judge denied the summary judgment motion, and the intermediate appellate court affirmed this decision, holding that the prenuptial agreement was in substantial compliance with state law.
However, the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed this decision, holding that the affidavit was insufficient to rectify the defect and that the prenuptial agreement was therefore invalid.
They noted that if the affidavit had perhaps been more detailed — outlining the exact procedure used by the notary to verify a person’s identification or stating that he remembered the husband — it could have been salvaged.
The case was remanded back to its original court, where the wife is now free to pursue property division.
While this case was in New York, it still serves to highlight the importance of retaining experienced and dedicated legal counsel who can ensure that sure every last detail is addressed in family law matters and grant you peace of mind moving forward.
Source: Westlaw News & Insight, “Defective prenup not cured by affidavit: N.Y. Court of Appeals,” Daniel Wiessner, May 30, 2012