Case Notes: Post-Nuptial Agreement validity

In the case of Lugg v. Lugg , 64 A.3d 1109 (2013), the Pennsylvania Superior Court was faced with a husband and wife who signed a post-nuptial agreement. After implementing part of the agreement, Wife sought to have the agreement thrown out on the basis of duress and lack of disclosure.

The trial court found the agreement to be valid. Wife appealed to the Superior Court.

The parties married in 1997 and signed a settlement agreement in 2010, in contemplation of a divorce. The parties negotiated the agreement themselves. Husband's lawyer drew up the agreement. Wife's attorney told Husband that it would take awhile before Wife would be in position to sign. Husband then started to continually and persistently nag Wife about signing the agreement. The parties met. Wife stated that she would not sign. But after 1.5 hours of persistance by Husband, she finally signed.

The parties then started to implement the agreement by signing car titles etc. Wife refused to cooperate with the divorce and Husband filed with the court to enforce the agreement and to require Wife to cooperate. Wife then asked the trial court to invalidate the agreement. The trial court refused to invalidate the agreement.

Wife appealed to the PA Superior Court, arguing that she did not receive full economic disclosure and that she only signed the agreement under duress.

The Superior Court noted that pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreement are evaluated under the same standard as other contracts. Contracts will not be invalidated absent fraud, misrepresentation or duress. The Court noted that daily badgering did not rise to the level of "duress". The Court noted that absent threats of actual harm, there is no "duress" where the contracting party is free to consult with counsel.

Generally, a valid post-nuptial (or pre-nuptial) agreement must have full and fair economic disclosure to be valid. There was not full disclosure in this case. But a party can waive full disclosure so long as the waiver is voluntary and in writing. So, Wife waived full disclosure.

Wife also sought to have the court look at the agreement to see if it was fair and reasonable. But the Superior Court noted that it was not in the business of looking at the fairness of an agreement so long as there was full disclosure or full disclosure was properly waived. In effect, the court told Wife to put on her big-girl-panties and live with her voluntary decision.

The moral of this story is to hire an experienced and effective family law attorney to work on your settlement agreement and to follow the advice of your attorney. Otherwise, your agreement may be invalid or you may be bound by a lousy agreement. Much of the problem here stemmed from the parties going around their own counsel. Prenups and Postnups are complicated and involved documents. They require a professional approach.