Modifying or Enforcing Prenuptial Agreements

Tenacity is the key to enforcing prenuptial agreements, divorce settlements, and support agreements.  If you’ve devoted your energy to preparing a family law agreement, you want it to be honored. Like most states, the Pennsylvania courts have a keen interest in enforcing prenuptial agreements and settlements, unless there is strong evidence to prove lack of full and fair disclosure, or duress, fraud or misrepresentation. Simeone v. Simeone, 525 Pa. 392, 581 A.2d 162 (1990); In re Estate of Geyer, 516 Pa. 492, 533 A.2d 423 (1987); Laudig v. Laudig, 624 A.2d 651 (Pa.Super.1993). In fact, Pennsylvania law supplies a presumption in favor of enforcement, which must be overcome if a spouse claims that the prenuptial agreement or settlement should be set aside.

In Pennsylvania, under the long-standing authority of Simeone v. Simeone, 525 Pa. 392, 581 A.2d 162 (1990), premarital agreements are presumed to be valid unless there has been a lack of full and fair disclosure. The same standard applies to post-nuptial agreements and marital settlement agreements.

The standards for overcoming the presumption of validity may be difficult to meet, as case law demonstrates. Full and fair disclosure does not require the preparation or attachment of a schedule or listing of the parties’ assets.  Cooper v. Oakes, 629 A.2d 944, 946 (1993).  If an agreement provides that full disclosure has been made, a presumption of full disclosure arises. If a spouse attempts to rebut this presumption by asserting fraud or misrepresentation, then it must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In re Estate of Hillegass, 431 Pa. 144, 244 A.2d 672 (1968); McClellan’s Estate, 365 Pa. 401, 75 A.2d 595 (1953); Cooper v. Oakes, supra; Laub v. Laub, 505 A.2d 290 (Pa.Super. 1986).  In fact, a recent decision holds that full and fair disclosure may be explicitly waived, but doing so may be a risky decision.

Sometimes, an unanticipated change occurs after an agreement was signed, and it might be desirable to modify a family law agreement. An agreement can be modified only if there is mutual assent and the modification is supported by valuable consideration.  Wilcox v. Regester, 207 A.2d 817 (Pa.1965).  Many family law agreements provide that they can be modified in writing only, but under certain circumstances, oral modification may be possible. C.I.T. Corp. v. Jonnet, 419 Pa. 435, 214 A.2d 620 (1965); Fina v. Fina, 737 A.2d 760 (Pa.Super.1999).

When a family law agreement has been violated, there may be an action for breach.  In a breach of contract action, the non-breaching party may ask the court to enforce the contract, award damages, or impose sanctions against the breaching party, including legal fees. If the breach is severe enough, the non-breaching party might be able to rescind the contract, but it is a tough standard to meet. Estate of Cummings, 493 Pa. 11, 425 A.2d 340 (1981).

Brian C. Vertz and his legal team are knowledgeable and experienced in modifying or enforcing prenuptial agreements, divorce settlements and support agreements.  In Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, call Brian Vertz at 412-471-9000 or use the contact form.