For most Californians, premarital agreements are regarded as inviolable and uniformly enforceable. Unfortunately for some individuals, this assumption is incorrect and can lead to a financial catastrophe. A prenuptial agreement in California can be defeated if the formalities of execution were not observed, if one party acted fraudulently or if a party coerced the other party into signing the agreement.
The formalities for executing and enforcing a prenuptial agreement in California are established by statute. The agreement must be in writing (oral prenuptial agreements are not enforceable) and must be signed before the marriage by both parties.
Unenforceability based upon coercion or unconscionability
If one party was coerced into signing the agreement, the agreement may not be enforced against that party. If the agreement contained one or more unconscionability when it was signed, it is unenforceable against the other party if that party was not provided a fair disclosure of the other person’s financial affairs, did not waive any right to such a disclosure, or did not have or could not have had knowledge of the other party’s financial affairs.
A prenuptial agreement is deemed to have not been executed voluntarily if the court finds that the party against whom enforcement is sought was not afforded adequate time to review the agreement or obtain review by an experienced attorney or that the party expressly waived that right.
The party seeking to enforce the agreement must show that the agreement was not executed under duress or undue influence.
Enforcing a prenuptial agreement can be a lengthy and painful court process. Anyone who discovers that such an agreement has become unfair, unduly prejudicial, or otherwise burdensome may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for advice on the likely outcome of such suit.