Negotiating a prenuptial agreement before marriage is a smart idea for couples concerned about protecting existing assets, future income, or anticipated inheritances. Designating which property will be included in the marital estate will streamline the division of property in divorce and clarifying whether the payment of maintenance will be excluded or allowed are common provisions in these agreements. Property division and spousal support are among the most disputed aspects of divorce and addressing them in advance lets each spouse know where they will stand in the event the marriage does not work out. However, simply because a contract was executed in anticipation of marriage does not mean the agreement will not be challenged or held invalid when it is submitted for enforcement in a divorce case. Grounds to challenge or invalidate a prenuptial agreement can vary widely, but courts generally try to uphold contracts and will only consider throwing them out if there is a major issue.
A woman seeking to challenge her prenuptial agreement in a divorce filed in 2017 learned that courts will go to great lengths to enforce contracts that were voluntarily signed. An exhibit listing the wife’s assets were missing from the agreement submitted to the court by the husband, but the court held this missing document was not enough to invalidate the agreement because the contents of the exhibit could be learned through other evidence. A discussion of when a prenuptial agreement may not be valid, and how to challenge its enforceability, will follow below.
Indiana law in the area of prenuptial agreements can be a little trickier in comparison to similar agreements executed in other states because of how other provisions in the law can affect the rights of each spouse. Many agreements will prohibit either spouse from seeking attorney’s fees in the divorce. Indiana law permits the court to award fees if one spouse has a disproportionately higher income, and thus, a greater ability to litigate contested issues. This can put the lower earning spouse at a distinct disadvantage, and waiving this right in a prenuptial agreement can cause significant hardship if disagreements arise.
Additionally, some spouses will waive rights to spousal maintenance. Unlike other States, Indiana does not have alimony that can be awarded for a long period of time. Instead, there is maintenance for a disability or to allow a spouse to obtain training or education for the purpose of finding a job, which can last no more than three years. Disability-based maintenance lasts as long as the disability is present. Taking away this right could put one spouse in dire financial straits in the aftermath of divorce and should be avoided in most situations.
Finally, although less common, some prenuptial agreements waive a spouse’s right to take against the other spouse’s estate at the time of his/her death. This goes against laws that allow a spouse to take a portion of the estate form property solely owned by the deceased spouse, even if there is a will. This area is complex, but spousal inheritance rights should not be easily given away and should be discussed with an attorney before any agreement is signed.
Issues with Execution
Turning to the execution of the agreement itself, a spouse can challenge the validity of a prenuptial agreement if he/she can prove the agreement was not entered into voluntary or with sufficient disclosure. Evidence of coercion, fraud, duress, or the incapacity of a spouse can all serve to invalidate the contract. Further, in situations in which the agreement is so lopsided that to enforce it would be unjust, courts do have the authority to reject it and order a standard division of assets and liabilities.
Get Legal Advice
Marriage and divorce are two opposite ends of the same spectrum. Prenuptial agreements that seem fair outside of marriage may not be acceptable in the current situation. If you have questions about the validity of your prenuptial agreement, talk to Christopher L. Arrington, P.C. about your options. These contracts are crucial to the outcome of your divorce and need thorough review. Contact the Brownsburg divorce firm to learn if your agreement has potential issues.