Landmark prenuptial agreement decision in US

Prenuptial agreements have only recently been recognised by the UK courts, so there is to date very little case law on how the courts view them, and the circumstances that can cause them to be followed to the letter, or thrown out altogether.

It was the court decision in the Radmacher divorce case in 2010 that propelled prenuptial agreements into the spotlight in the UK, where they had previously had little to no influence. In the US prenuptial agreements have been around for much longer, and it is fair to say, that the developments in respect of the law pertaining to prenups there, could at sometime be echoed in the UK.

A recent case in the US raises an interesting question about the pressure on the spouse to sign the prenuptial agreement, and the opportunity they have to review it and receive proper legal advice. Elizabeth Cioffi-Petrakis told the court hearing her divorce case that her husband forced her into signing their pre-nuptial agreement just four days before their wedding, saying he would cancel the wedding otherwise - her father had already paid a $40k deposit for their reception.

Mrs Cioffi-Petrakis says her husband, Peter Petrakis, promised to tear up the agreement, which provided he would get practically everything, if they ever had children, and that their home would be put into both their names. Neither of those things happened despite the couple having twin sons and a daughter.

The Brooklyn Appellate Court decided that Mr Petrakis "fraudulently induced" his wife to sign the agreement, and agreed that it should be disregarded.
Mrs Cioffi-Petrakis' solicitor said the decision to null a pre-nup on the basis of a verbal promise was "unprecedented" - especially when a clause in the agreement says there are no verbal promises in place. He described the decision as changing the landscape with regard to prenuptial agreements, and that spouses challenging agreements may now have a stronger footing to do so.

If you live in Northern Ireland and require legal advice in respect of a prenuptial agreement, contact one of the family law solicitors at Wilson Nesbitt by calling 0800 840 1363.