The Court of Appeals in Burtoff v. Burtoff, still remains instructional as to how the Court would scrutinize validity of a prenuptial agreement in litigation.

There, Mrs. Burtoff challenged the validity of the prenuptial agreement particularity provisions pertaining to spousal support in an event of separation and divorce.

The Court again iterated that prenuptial agreements are generally considered contracts with their enforcement taking on the same criteria as other contracts but with a higher degree of scrutiny to ensure fairness, and balance.

Specifically, the Court expounded in holding such contracts valid that with divorce such a commonplace fact of life, it is fair and reasonable to assume that many prospective marriage partners would want to generate a detailed, well crafted, and valid antenuptial agreement settling their property rights upon dissolution of marriage as well as award of specified alimony.

Moreover, such agreements although not void as against public policy will be scrutinized more carefully than an ordinary contract, because of the likelihood of disparity in financial positions as well as that the contracting parties have not been dealing at arm’s length.  Further that the courts generally retain interest greater than their interest in other contractual subjects, and therefore will examine the specifics of each agreement to decide the validity and enforceability.

Generally, for the agreement to be valid, there must be analysis as to:

  1. Whether the contract was voluntarily entered, and
  2. After full disclosure of assets, and if
  3. The contract greatly disadvantages one spouse, then
  4. The other spouse will have the burden of showing that the disadvantaged spouse signed freely and voluntarily, and
  5. With full knowledge of the other’s assets,
  6. There must be also sufficient time for the counter party to seek representation and to evaluate and review the agreement.

Additional, as a public policy, in evaluating the provision in the prenuptial contract pertaining to the alimony to be fair the court considers many traditional factors such as:

  • The duration of the marriage,
  • The age and health of the spouses,
  • Their respective economic condition and earning capacity,
  • Their contributions to the accumulation of property, and
  • The society’s interest in preventing a person from becoming a public charge.

Ultimately the Court here determined the contract to be valid as Mrs. Burtoff was unable to establish that she signed the agreement under duress, or (2) that she did not have knowledge of Dr. Burtoff’s wealth when she signed.

Moreover, parties had extensive discussions pertaining to the contract and for several months before the contract was executed. Mrs. Burtoff had negotiated terms and the amount of the alimony award and in consultation with her counsel and had understood any legal rights she might have waived.  There was also a full disclosure of assets and income prior to signing of the agreement.

Refer to our Washington DC Divorce Lawyer page for more detailed information on this subject.

Categories: Family Law.