In Washington State, couples who are engaged to be married have the option of creating a prenuptial agreement. This agreement is a contract between the couple that determines what will happen if they get divorced. A prenuptial agreement can be used to pre-determine the amount of spousal support provided (known as alimony in other states), or could waive the right to spousal support entirely. The agreement can also be used to make sure that certain items of property remain with one spouse in the event of divorce.
The circumstances under which a prenuptial agreement is signed are often very different than the circumstances in which the prenuptial agreement is applied. People preparing to get married are often willing to sign away many rights, while people getting divorced are often looking to preserve as much of their way of life as is possible. When a prenuptial agreement affects a divorce, can you fight the agreement in court?
Challenging the Agreement’s Validity
A prenuptial agreement is a contract, and like any contract, it must meet certain criteria to be legally valid. For instance, the contract must be in writing and must be signed by both parties. The parties must have signed the agreement without duress or undue pressure. Being surprised with the option to sign the agreement or call off a wedding set to take place in three days puts a lot of undue pressure to just sign away. Both parties must have had time to consult with an attorney about the provisions of the agreement if they so desired.
Additionally, the prenuptial agreement may be invalid if it is based on fraud. Fraud can occur when the person creating the agreement hides assets or intentionally misleads his or her future spouse. If the contract is legally invalid, part or all of it may not be enforceable during a divorce.
Challenging Unenforceable Terms
Washington state law does not allow prenuptial agreements to determine issues like child custody or child support. Ultimately, issues regarding children must be decided by the parents and reviewed by the court at the time of the divorce. Any provisions in a prenuptial agreement dictating where the children will live or how much support they will receive will be unenforceable if they are challenged in court.
Challenging Unfair Terms
When the prenuptial agreement is legally binding, and there are no unenforceable terms, it will usually be upheld. So long as the terms of the agreement are reasonable, and a spouse knowingly and willingly gave up their rights, the court will let the agreement stand. If the terms are unfair or would leave one spouse destitute, however, the judge may refuse to uphold the agreement.
For example, it is perfectly legal for a man to ask his fiancée to sign a prenuptial agreement waiving her right to spousal support. If she does so and spends the next 20 years working in the home and raising children, she may not have any means to support herself financially if they divorce. In this case, the judge would not let the woman become dependent on public assistance for her survival. The judge would likely order the husband to pay some spousal support regardless of the existence of a prenuptial agreement.
Challenging a prenuptial agreement is difficult, but not impossible. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys know that you may need financial help to support yourself, and can help you challenge an unfair or invalid prenuptial agreement.
For more information on your rights and options during a divorce, contact Pacific Northwest Family Law today by calling 590-572-3700.