Most Pennsylvania family law attorneys will advise their clients to sign a well-drafted prenuptial agreement. The reason for such advice is the sad statistic that nearly 50% of all Pennsylvania marriages end in divorce, and a properly drafted prenuptial agreement can minimize the strife of a divorce.
In some cases, however, a person who signed a prenuptial agreement in good faith will find that the agreement turns out to be oppressive and unfair. What can be done?
Fortunately, Pennsylvania law provides an escape hatch from an unfair prenuptial agreement, but the path is not an easy one. The party seeking have a prenuptial agreement declared invalid must be a party to a court proceeding, usually a proceeding to enforce one or more terms of the agreement.
Occasionally, a person seeking the invalidation of a prenuptial agreement will commence a court action seeking a judicial ruling that the agreement is unenforceable.
The general rule
According to Pennsylvania statutes, a person seeking to invalidate a prenuptial agreement must prove that the agreement is unenforceable because it falls within one of there categories set out in the statute. The three categories are:
- The party did not execute the agreement voluntarily
- Prior to signing the agreement, the other party was not truthful about financial matters
- The party did not expressly waive the right to receive such information
- The party did not have adequate knowledge of the other party’s property or financial obligations.
Understanding the general rule
Proving that a signature was obtained involuntarily can involve one of several circumstances:
- The person challenging the agreement was the subject of duress or undue influence
- The person attempting to enforce the agreement used fraud to obtain the signature of the other person
- The person challenging the agreement did not have the opportunity to seek review of the agreement by competent counsel
- The person challenging the agreement did not have adequate mental capacity, due to illness or other disability, to review and understand the agreement
Duress and undue influence often take many forms. One form is a threat to cancel the wedding. Another is the withholding of assets from the marital estate.