Recently, a New York appellate court affirmed a lower court ruling, setting aside a prenuptial agreement on the grounds that the agreement was the product of fraud, duress and other inequitable conduct.
Traditionally, New York has a strong public policy favoring individuals deciding their own interests through contractual arrangements. However, this right is not without limitation. In particular, agreements addressing matrimonial issues have been subjected to extra scrutiny beyond that applied to contracts in general. While there is a heavy presumption that a prenuptial agreement is valid, it may be invalidated if a party is able to prove fraud, duress or other inequitable conduct.
In the present case, the judge tossed out a prenuptial agreement where a real estate mogul, Peter Petrakis, pressured his fiancée, Elizabeth Petrakis to either sign a one-sided prenuptial agreement days before their wedding, this after her father had already shelled out $40,000 for the reception, or he would cancel the wedding. He also told his fiancée that he would tear up the agreement as soon as they had children, which he then failed to do.
As always, if you are planning on signing a prenuptial agreement, it is prudent to have a qualified matrimonial attorney review it before signing and provide you with the best possible legal advice. If you are planning on having one prepared for your benefit, you should retain an attorney who will draft an agreement that will stand up to the scrutiny of the courts and thereby protect your hard earned assets.