Premarital agreements, also known as prenuptial agreements or “prenups” to use the informally shortened name, have become increasingly popular with engaged couples, especially if one or both spouses own significant assets. Just as these agreements have become more popular, more and more divorcing couples want to know if the agreements can be defeated in court. The answer is “occasionally,” but the reasons why this happens should be fully understood.
The first step in challenging a prenuptial agreement in Louisiana is learning the proper name: these agreements are called “matrimonial agreements” in Louisiana’s Civil Code. The agreement must be signed by both parties before the marriage, and each signature must be acknowledged. An acknowledgement is not simply the signature of a notary public with the notary’s seal attached. An acknowledgement is a legislatively prescribed form that identifies the signatories of the agreement and sets forth other pertinent information. The failure to use the proper form of acknowledgement caused the Louisiana Supreme Court to declare the matrimonial agreement to be invalid in the case of Acurio v. Acuiro. In other words, the failure of the signatories to the agreement can lead a court to declare it invalid and unenforceable.
Other ways of defeating a matrimonial agreement
Even a matrimonial agreement that has been properly executed if the person against whom the agreement is asserted can show that it was signed under duress or is otherwise unconscionable. If the party seeking to enforce the agreement to protect his or her assets from the other party made fraudulent statements or hid assets to induce the other party to the sign the agreement. Another persuasive reason to invalidate a matrimonial agreement is proof that the person seeking to enforce the agreement pressured the other party into signing the agreement without allowing the person to read the agreement carefully or to consult an attorney about the terms of the agreement. This type of “persuasion” is called undue influence, and its use can prevent the party who applied it from enforcing the agreement.
Anyone whose spouse is threatening to enforce the terms of a matrimonial agreement may wish to consult an experienced divorce lawyer for advice on the enforceability of the agreement and an opinion as to the likely outcome of the enforcement action.