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BY: Maury D. Beaulier

Prenuptial Agreements Overview

A premarital agreement may also be called an antenuptial agreement. The terms are synonymous. Prenuptial or antenuptial agreements refer to a contract between two persons planning to marry which governs the rights and liabilities of the parties if they should happen to get divorced or in the event one spouse dies. In short, aprenuptial agreement determines the rights of parties to property responsibility for debt and may even determine whether spousal maintenance (alimony) is paid.

Why Prenuptial Agreements are Prudent

A premarital agreement acts as a safeguard for both you and your spouse-to-be. It protects your assets and may prevent expensive and acrimonious litigation if a divorce should occur by defining the rights and responsibilities of the parties in advance. With today's divorce rate hovering around 50%,a prenuptial agreement may be one of the most prudent decisions in your life. This is particularly true for business owners who may wish to preserve what they have worked so hard to build.

Minnesota Law

Prenuptial agreements governing property settlements upon dissolution are valid in Minnesota. Englundv. Englund, 286 Minn. 227, 230, 175 N.W.2d 461, 463 (1970); Hillv. Hill, 356 N.W.2d 49, 53 (Minn.Ct.App.1984), pet. for rev.denied, (Feb. 19, 1985). The current requirements for a valid antenuptial agreement are contained in Minn.Stat. 519.11 (1984). Antenuptial agreements are enforceable if they are procedurally and substantively fair. McKee-Johnsonv. Johnson, 444 N.W.2d 259, 265 (Minn.1989). An antenuptial agreement is procedurally fair if :

  • there is a full and fair disclosure of the earnings and property of each party, and
  • the parties have had an opportunity to consult with legal counsel of their own choice. Minn.Stat. 519.11, subd. 1 (1998).

The agreement must also be:

  • in writing;
  • executed in the presence of two witnesses; and
  • acknowledged by the parties before a person authorized to administer an oath. Minn.Stat. 519.11, subd. 2 (1998).

In most cases prenuptial agreements are upheld. It is only in cases where there was not full disclosure or the agreement becomes substantively unfair at the time of the divorce that Court's strike down the validity of such agreements. An agreement may deemed substantively unfair if the circumstances on which the agreement was based have changed so drastically that enforcement would not comport with the reasonable expectations of the parties at inception.

Prenuptial Agreements & Spousal Maintenance

Courts most often find antenuptial agreements substantively unfair with regard to provisions seeking to limit or eliminate spousal maintenance (alimony)payments. Minnesota Courts have ruled that there is sound public policy rationale for not strictly enforcing such a provisions which, even though entered into in good faith and reasonable at the time of execution, may have become unreasonable or unconscionable as to its application to the spouse upon divorce. The Courts are essentially attempting to prevent ex spouses from becoming wards of the state. If one spouse's health and employability have greatly deteriorated during a marriage, Courts may be reluctant to enforce the maintenance provisions of an antenuptial agreement. Some cases that have been decided:

Invalidated an antenuptial agreement which sought to preclude spousal maintenance where the lesser earning spouse contracted a venereal disease from he husband resulting in medical expenses;

Invalidating an antenuptial agreement which sought to preclude spousal maintenance where the marriage was long term (more than 20 years) and the wife had been out of the work force for some time and suffered from an emotional disability. The trial court concluded that unforeseen circumstances invalidated the antenuptial agreement by rendering it unconscionable.

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