The terms of a well-drafted premarital agreement are generally enforceable, subject to the same basic requirements that apply to any contract in California. Still, these documents can have a profound effect on the lives of entire families. Disputes expose premarital agreements to judicial scrutiny, as the court interprets the provisions and determines whether both parties played by the rules when creating them.
When premarital agreement disputes arise, the court addresses two basic issues identified by the California Family Code:
- Voluntary execution — For the agreement to withstand a legal challenge, the spouse who is contesting the agreement must have entered into the agreement voluntarily and with a full understanding of the effects of the document’s provisions. One of the factors the court considers is whether this spouse was represented by independent legal counsel. Duress, fraud or undue influence must not have played a role in the execution of the agreement.
- Reasonable provisions — The law states that an unconscionable agreement — one that is grossly unfair — is not enforceable. The party who is challenging the agreement must have entered into it based on knowledge of the full financial status of the other party or expressly waived access to that information.
Remember that contract language is open to interpretation. Even a single word choice can create questions that require a judge to make the final decision. California family law attorneys must have extensive skill and experience in drafting premarital agreements to help ensure these contracts are enforceable as intended.
Many individuals enter into a premarital agreement specifically to make important decisions during a time of harmony rather than fighting out a divorce settlement when conflict is at its highest level. In more than three decades as a divorce lawyer, I have helped numerous clients who see things very differently during the divorce process compared with how they felt when drafting the premarital agreement. I look into every detail of the agreement to identify any reasons a judge might see it as invalid. I can also help facilitate settlement negotiations that override problematic provisions of premarital agreements.