In Maryland, prenuptial – also called antenuptial – agreements are valid and enforceable. At the basic level, a prenuptial agreement is a contract and, as a contract, prenuptial agreements are presumptively valid.
That being said, as a contract, prenuptial agreements can be challenged on the grounds that ALL contracts can be challenged. Put another way, all potential legal defenses to a contract can be asserted against a prenuptial agreement. For this reason, if you are planning to enter a prenuptial agreement prior to your pending marriage, you need to consult experienced Maryland family law attorneys – like the ones at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl, to ensure that your prenuptial agreement will hold up in court. Here are two of the most important hallmarks of a legal enforceable prenuptial agreement.
Frank, full and truthful disclosure
Unlike most contracts, a prenuptial agreement is presumed, under Maryland caselaw, to be between two parties that have a “relationship of confidence” between them. This is legally important because contracts entered into by parties in a relationship of confidence are reviewed by Maryland courts with a “heightened standard” of enforceability. Further, contracts between those in a relationship of confidence are particularly vulnerable to legal challenges based on fraud, overreach, duress and undue influence. If proven, any of those will invalidate a prenuptial agreement.
In practice, this requires a “frank, full and truthful disclosure” between the future spouses before the prenuptial is signed and the absence of anything that might be deemed duress or abuse of power. Disclosure is required under Maryland law because, usually, a spouse is waiving certain rights. As the courts have said, there must be a frank, full and truthful disclosure “… of the worth of the property, real and personal, as to which there is a waiver of rights in whole or in part, so that he or she who waives can know what it is he or she is waiving.”
So, one of the most important hallmarks of a legally enforceable prenuptial agreement is a frank, full and truthful disclosure of assets (and the value of those assets) prior to the signing of the prenuptial agreement. Debts must also be included.
Ample opportunity to review and consider the prenuptial agreement
As noted, an enforceable prenuptial agreement requires the absence of anything that might be deemed duress or abuse of power. Put another way, it is important that the facts show that the prenuptial agreement was signed freely, knowingly and voluntarily. Thus, a second crucial hallmark of a legally enforceable prenuptial agreement is ample opportunity for each spouse to separately review and consider the prenuptial agreement and to consult with lawyers. As an example of what NOT to do, it was recently reported in a case that a prenuptial agreement was invalided when the wife testified to the following:
- The Husband did not mention the prenuptial agreement until approximately a week before the wedding
- The agreement was signed six days before the wedding
- The agreement was written in English (where the wife did not speak English) and no translation or translator was provided
- The agreement was written by the husband’s lawyer
- The wife was provided with an attorney suggested by the husband’s lawyer counsel
- The wife’s attorney did not adequately explain the terms of the agreement
- The financial disclosure in the agreement contained several errors and omissions for both parties
Maryland and D.C. Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. divorce and family law attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280.