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Overturning Premarital Agreements In Florida

Divorce5

Since there is a strong presumption towards enforcing spousal agreements in divorce proceedings, spousal property agreements are difficult, although not impossible, to successfully challenge.

Fundamentally, challenging parties must establish that they had no meaningful choice as to whether or not to sign the document, either because the other spouse did not completely disclose all assets, the challenging party did not have a sufficient opportunity to fully review all ramifications of the agreement, or there was grossly unequal bargaining power (e.g. one side had an attorney for the entire process and the other one was either unrepresented or had only limited access to counsel).

Duress

This term seems relatively straightforward, but in Florida family law, it has a very specific meaning that varies based on the facts of the case. In general, duress is a state of mind produced by wrongful conduct that causes the targeted person to make a decision s/he otherwise would not have made. Both elements — wrongful conduct and causation — must be present. It is not wrong to pressure someone into signing a prenuptial agreement; in fact, it is not even wrong to exert considerable pressure to sign. Moreover, if the signing party would have accepted the terms anyway, there is no duress even if the other party’s conduct was wrongful.

Florida courts have never really compiled a list of factors that constitute duress, but Cronacher v. Cronacher contains a useful list of facts that do not constitute duress:

  • Emotional Strain: Divorce proceedings are inherently stressful, the court reasoned, so adding an additional element does not constitute duress.
  • Concealing Some Assets: In this case, the husband insisted that his corporate holdings were “out of bounds,” and that omission did not invalidate the agreement.
  • Threatening Legal Action: A statement like “if you don’t sign I’ll sue” is bellicose but not evidence of duress if the party has a legal right to sue.

As mentioned earlier, there must also be unequal bargaining power; in this case, the court mentioned that the wife was reasonably well educated and economically independent.

Overreach/Unconscionable

These two terms often overlap, as both involve an inequality of bargaining power which results in a one-sided agreement that effectively deprives one party of a choice in the matter.

In Lutgert v. Lutgert, the court found overreaching when a rich husband presented his soon-to-be wife with a premarital agreement about twenty-four hours before the wedding when all the guests’ travel plans had already been booked and paid for. Under the agreement, the husband would keep all property and pay only limited spousal support to the wife. The combination of “popping” the agreement on the wife at the last minute and the one-sided nature of the pact met the legal definition of “overreaching,” according to the court.

Unconscionability is difficult to prove under the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreements Act. It is insufficient to show unfairness or unreasonableness, because challenging parties must establish that the agreement was “excessively unreasonable” and “shockingly unfair.” Additionally, parties must prove that the agreement was unconscionable when it was made, an issue that often comes up with regard to stock or stock options.

Count on Experienced Lawyers

Courts usually uphold premarital agreements. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. After hours appointments are available.

Resources:

scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6710350390883669065&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

uniformlaws.org/shared/docs/premarital%20and%20marital%20agreements/2012_pmaa_final.pdf

scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6957926222769269256&q=Lutgert+v.+Lutgert&hl=en&as_sdt=6,44&as_vis=1

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