Are Premarital Agreements Set in Stone, or Can They be Broken?

A premarital agreement helps couples considering marriage set out some terms that govern a possible split one day. In some cases, however, a premarital agreement can be considered unenforceable. This article looks at the circumstances in which premarital agreements may be considered void, and how a lawyer may help you.

A premarital agreement is intended to set out the terms under which separation should take place, should a marriage head for divorce. While couples planning marriage don’t often think they could need such an agreement, it can be of great help to have one prepared and in place when a marriage becomes unviable.

What does a premarital agreement cover?

A premarital agreement in California can offer guidance on spousal support and the right to inherit property. Such an agreement can also help make sure that a child from a previous marriage is provided for. If you decide to move in with your partner, it can help you define your shared home as communal property, rather than property that belongs entirely to one of the parties involved.

Premarital agreements do come with limits

As much convenience as premarital agreements offer, there are limits to what they can achieve for you. You cannot use an agreement, for instance, to set aside your right to certain spousal employee benefits, and you cannot use it to do something that the law directly governs. For instance, a premarital agreement cannot help you set out child custody arrangements. Those matters are settled in court. You can, however, use a premarital agreement to decide on various financial responsibilities to do with childcare. In addition, spousal fault isn’t taken into consideration in California when courts render rulings on property division or support. For this reason, a premarital agreement that includes an infidelity clause wouldn’t be enforceable.

A premarital agreement can be considered void in some circumstances

Courts in California tend to view a premarital agreement as unenforceable in three circumstances

Duress: If there is evidence to indicate that one of the parties to a premarital agreement signed on simply because they felt they had no choice, the agreement could be considered void. For instance, if one party springs a premarital agreement on the other a couple of weeks before a planned wedding, and threatens to call it off if they don’t sign, the signing would be considered as done under duress.

An unconscionable quality: A premarital agreement that awards all marital assets to one party, and none to the other, and denies them spousal support, in addition, would be considered potentially unconscionable. Each premarital agreement is different, and courts tend to make calls on them on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, agreements that are markedly lopsided can be rendered void in court.

Evidence of misleading behavior: The court may look into the possibility that one of the parties misled the other about their assets or income, or got them to waive their rights without truthful explanations. Such premarital agreements would be considered void.

Sometimes, premarital agreements may be rendered void for more mundane reasons. For instance, couples in California need to sign their premarital agreements at least a week before they get married. Agreements with shorter waiting periods are not valid.

Going with an attorney experienced in family law

If you have a problem with a premarital agreement, you need to know that the court may consider setting it aside, depending on the details of your case. It may even be possible to set aside an agreement in circumstances other than the ones described above. Going in with knowledgeable counsel on your side could equip you with the legal expertise you need to gain a fair outcome.