New York State Divorce Laws on Prenuptial Agreements

By Heather Frances J.D.

Few couples enter into marriage expecting the marriage to fail, but prenuptial agreements are designed to protect both spouses’ assets if the marriage does end in divorce. State laws vary regarding permissibility and requirements for prenuptial agreements, but New York law allows couples to enter into such agreements.

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements describe the way a couple agrees to split their assets if they divorce, and these agreements must be signed before the marriage. Typical prenuptial agreements address spousal support and property division, but prenuptial agreements can be more detailed or more general. For example, a prenuptial agreement could specify that one spouse gets to keep a specific piece of real estate or that each spouse gets a certain portion of all real estate the couple owns at the time of the divorce.

Fairness

New York requires prenuptial agreements to be fair -- both at the time of signing and at the time of divorce. If a prenuptial agreement is extremely lopsided, a court may deem it invalid. For example, if one spouse makes much more than the other and the prenuptial agreement prevents the lesser-earning spouse from receiving spousal support, the court could deem the agreement unfair. If circumstances arise during the marriage that make the prenuptial agreement unfair, such as one spouse becoming disabled, the court can also disregard the agreement during the divorce.

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Disclosure

Spouses must have full financial disclosure before a prenuptial agreement is signed -- or a court may later consider the agreement invalid. Full disclosure of one spouse’s substantial assets allows the other spouse to decide whether to enter into the prenuptial agreement. Without such disclosure, soon-to-be spouses are incapable of making an educated decision to sign the agreement, since they would not know how much they could be entitled to if they divorced.

Restrictions

Certain topics and responsibilities cannot be contracted away in a prenuptial agreement. For example, terms of a prenuptial agreement that attempt to contract away child custody and child support responsibilities will likely be disregarded in a later divorce. Courts tend to simply ignore such terms, instead of invalidating the entire prenuptial agreement.

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

References

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Do Wills Have to Be Handwritten?

Speak with attorneys across the country, and you will likely hear the same advice: most people over the age of 18 should have a will. Without one, state statutes of descent and distribution step in to govern the allocation of assets to survivors. Handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, are legal and binding in many states. However, each state defines what is acceptable within its boundaries.

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.

Can a Prenuptial Agreement Be Voided?

When your marriage is disintegrating and you suspect divorce is looming on the horizon, it can be a big comfort to know that you and your spouse had the foresight to sign a prenuptial agreement. Unfortunately, prenups don't hold up in divorce court 100 percent of the time. Judges can and have thrown them out when certain aspects are in flagrant violation of the law or public policy. If you changed your mind about your agreement after you signed it, you might have voided it as well.

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