Can a Prenuptial Agreement Be Reversed During a Divorce in New York?

By Heather Frances J.D.

New York prenuptial agreements, written contracts between spouses that are signed before they marry, aren’t always followed when a couple divorces. Even though your prenuptial agreement may say it governs the terms of your divorce, prenuptial agreements can be reversed under certain circumstances, such as when a divorce court finds the terms unfair to either spouse. If your prenuptial agreement is declared invalid, your divorce might be decided as if you never had one.

Fairness

New York requires prenuptial agreements to comply with statutory formalities, including being in writing and signed by each spouse. Beyond these basic structural formalities, the agreement must also be fair to each spouse -- both at the time of signing and at the time of the divorce. If a New York court decides your prenuptial agreement is unconscionable -- wasn’t fair when you signed it or isn’t fair now -- it can declare your agreement invalid. If your agreement is invalid, the court may refuse to enforce some or all of its terms.

Disclosure

Your prenuptial agreement might also be declared invalid if you or your spouse failed to disclose some of your assets before it was signed. New York courts don’t want to reward one spouse for hiding assets, or their full value, from the other spouse; a prenuptial agreement signed under such circumstances deprives innocent spouses of the opportunity to fully understand what they are signing. For example, if you thought your spouse had $200,000 in assets, you might be more likely to sign a prenuptial agreement waiving your right to your spouse's assets than if you had known the value of those assets was actually $2 million. Thus, if a New York court finds one spouse failed to disclose a large portion of his assets, this could invalidate the prenuptial agreement.

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Third Parties

New York does not permit spouses to use their prenuptial agreement to sign away the rights of third parties, especially those of children. Thus, if your prenuptial agreement contains terms that alter child support or child custody, a court may remove such terms from the agreement. However, such terms are not likely to invalidate the entire agreement. For example, if your agreement states your spouse does not have to pay child support upon divorce, the court is likely to invalidate such terms, since child support belongs to the child not the parent, and leave the rest of your agreement intact.

Results of Reversal

If the court reverses your prenuptial agreement or certain terms of the agreement, New York law steps in to determine how the terms of your divorce will be decided. For example, if your entire agreement is deemed invalid, the court will evaluate specific factors set forth in New York law to divide your marital property. These factors include the income, age and health of you and your spouse and length of your marriage. New York courts must divide property equitably, which means the division must be fair but not necessarily equal.

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New York State Divorce Laws on Prenuptial Agreements

References

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Ohio's Prenuptial Agreement Laws

To prevent the distribution of your assets to a potential spouse if you later divorce, consider drafting a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement is an agreement between you and your potential spouse that describes how you would like your property distributed upon divorce. However, to be recognized as valid in Ohio, the agreement must fulfill certain requirements including being signed in the presence of two witnesses.

Amending a Divorce Agreement in Tennessee

Tennessee refers to divorce agreements as marital dissolution agreements and after you sign one, lawyers in the state will most likely tell you it’s a done deal. After it becomes part of your decree and a judge signs the decree, you’ll have a very difficult time changing it. However, a small window of opportunity exists when you can take steps to amend or revoke it.

Unconscionable Divorce Agreement

Most states prefer that spouses negotiate a marital settlement agreement on their own when they divorce, rather than ask the court to decide issues at trial. These agreements must usually be submitted to a judge for approval before they are incorporated into decrees or judgments. A judge won't approve your agreement if it's unconscionable. If you don't file for divorce, but just remain separated under your agreement's terms, it may not be enforceable either.

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