New York Court Discusses the Enforceability of Prenuptial Agreements

In New York, parties entering into marriage have the right to protect their interests via prenuptial agreements. Generally, the courts will enforce valid prenuptial agreements, but parties may attempt to challenge enforcement by arguing, among other things, that the provisions of the agreement are vague. As demonstrated in a recent opinion issued in a New York divorce action, however, such challenges will not be successful if the court finds the agreement is written in plain language that has a precise meaning. If you have a prenuptial agreement and you want to end your marriage, it is smart to talk to a New York divorce attorney to determine how the agreement may impact your case.

Factual and Procedural Background

Reportedly, the parties married in December 2008. The wife came to the United States on a 90-day fiancée visa that was set to expire shortly before the marriage. The husband asked the wife to sign a prenuptial agreement that his attorney drafted, and the wife complied, signing the agreement two days prior to the wedding.

Allegedly, the agreement contained an escalator clause that required the husband to transfer certain assets to the wife on the tenth anniversary of their marriage. The husband filed for divorce in May 2018 but argued that the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable because it was vague. The court found in favor of the wife and enforced the agreement. The husband appealed.

Construing Prenuptial Agreements

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling, explaining that duly executed prenuptial agreements are typically valid and enforceable due to the strong public policy in favor of parties determining their own interests via contractual agreements. The court elaborated that, as with all contracts, the courts construe prenuptial agreements in accordance with the parties’ intent, which generally is ascertained from what they express in their writing.

A written contract that is clear, complete, and unambiguous on its face, therefore, must be enforced in accordance with the plain meaning of its terms. In the subject case, the prenuptial agreement stated, among other things, that in the event the parties’ marriage is dissolved after the tenth anniversary, the husband would be required to pay the wife $50,000 within 30 days of the entry of the divorce decree. The court found that the plain language of the agreement could not be interpreted in any other way than to mean that, for purposes of the escalator clause, the duration of the marriage is measured from the date of the wedding to the entry of the divorce decree. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Consult a Trusted New York Family Law Attorney

Prenuptial agreements can help people safeguard their assets in the event their marriage fails, but they must be carefully drafted; otherwise, they may not have the intended effect. If you intend to divorce and you are subject to a prenuptial agreement, it is smart to consult an attorney about your options. Ksenia Rudyuk is a trusted New York family law attorney who can inform you of your rights and aid you in seeking the best legal result possible in your case. You can contact Ms. Rudyuk through the form online or at 212-706-2001 to set up a conference.

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