Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Case Law Development: Antenuptial Agreements Valid at Execution are Enforceable at Divorce unless Spouse is Stripped of All Marital Interests

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts explained the application of its two-part test for enforcement of antenuptial agreements in a case in which Wife had agreed to waive alimony and nearly all rights to assets acquired during the marriage, even though she had substantially less earning capacity than husband and had been a full-time mother and homemaker for most of the marraige.  The court found the agreement valid at the time of execution because, measured at the time the parties were marrying, the agreemend was fair and reasonable, Wife's had been represented by counsel and there was no evidence of fraud. In the "second-look" at the agreement at the time of the divorce, the court held that "An agreement, even a one-sided agreement that leaves the contesting party with considerably fewer assets and imposes a far different lifestyle after divorce than she had during the marriage, is fair and reasonable unless the contesting party is essentially stripped of substantially all marital interests." (internal quotations removed)  The court emphasizes that "Where there is no evidence that either party engaged in fraud, failed to disclose assets fully and fairly, or in some other way took unfair advantage of the confidential and emotional relationship of the other when the agreement was executed, an agreement will be valid unless its terms essentially vitiate the very status of marriage."

2 judges dissented, finding the Wife's waiver of alimony to be unfair and unreasonable.

Austin v. Austin, 2005 Mass. LEXIS 727 (December 21, 2005)
Opinion avaiable on the web (last visited December 26, 2005 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2005/12/case_law_develo_31.html

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