What could invalidate a prenuptial agreement?

On Behalf of | Feb 22, 2023 | Family Law

Premarital contracts date back thousands of years. Couples with many assets often turn to such agreements to protect their property in case of divorce.

In unique circumstances, such documents may not hold up legally, and couples require the intervention of the family court to divide assets.

Illegal or unconscionable procedures or clauses

A prenuptial agreement must follow the general guidelines of Massachusetts contract law. Both parties must be competent adults to enter the deal, and the conditions must be reasonable and fair.

Prenups cannot be verbal contracts, and there can be no sign of coercion. The spouses had to have the mental capacity to accept the deal. Proof of the influence of drugs or alcohol could nullify the arrangement.

The contract can have neither procedural nor substantive unconscionability. The meaning of the terms cannot have a hidden, unfair surprise, and the deal cannot strip a party of all marital rights to maintenance and support. A prenup cannot arrange child custody matters, either.

Changed circumstances

An agreement may be legal at its execution but become invalid by the time a divorce occurs. Circumstances may make the conditions unfair and leave a spouse unable to support themselves properly.

For example, the contract may guarantee one spouse an amount to maintain a lifestyle, but inflation could erode that value and not fulfill the intentions of the agreement. If one party experiences an unexpected deterioration of mental or physical health, this circumstance could make an agreement unconscionable.

Massachusetts has a second-look standard that allows the courts to review the validity of premarital agreements at the time of divorce. Like wills, trusts and other planning arrangements, an individual is wise to review such documents on occasion to ensure the contracts can fulfill the parties’ wishes.