A Few Random Thoughts About Pre-Nups
August 6, 2014 § 3 Comments
If you’ve practiced law for any length of time, you have been confronted with this scenario:
Mr. X, a client for whom you likely have done some agreeable work before, enters your office accompanied by a pleasant woman, Miss Y, who is introduced as his fiancée.
After the initial pleasantries, Mr. X informs you that the happy couple is being married tomorrow, and they need you to prepare an antenuptial agreement. It should not be any big problem, because they have agreed, after much discussion, to the terms upon the piece of notebook paper that Mr. X pulls out of his wallet and lays on your desk. If you will have it typed up, they will sign it and go forth to embark on an ensuing lifetime of marital bliss, they tell you while gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes (eyelashes batting furiously).
Now, let’s stop right there before you hand it to your secretary to type up. Let’s consider a few points:
- Antenuptial agreements are enforceable, if they are fair in their execution and a full disclosure of assets and liabilities has been made. Smith v. Smith, 656 So.2d 1143 1147 (Miss. 1995). If the parties agree to language that a full disclosure has been made, that creates a presumption that it was done. See, Kitchens v. Estate of Kitchens, 850 So.2d 215, 217 (Miss. App. 2003). The presumption may, however, be overcome by proof of fraud, misconduct, or overreaching. Id. In a case I had recently, both parties testified that neither had the benefit of any financial disclosures of the other, and neither had any clue as to the financial situation of the other, effectively negating the language in their own agreement.
- Just as in an irreconcilable differences divorce, you can not ethically represent both parties. You need to make it clear that you can only represent one, and my suggestion is that it be the one with whom you had a previous attorney-client relationship. In a case where you represented neither or both before, they will have to choose.
- You need to confer separately with your client about the content of the agreement, and you need to inform the other party that (s)he should seek and obtain independent legal advice. This is critical. Laypeople do not understand the intricacies and nuances of marital property, alimony, and divorce, and the seemingly innocuous provisions they jotted down on that paper may have far-reaching and even drastic repercussions for either or both later in the context of a divorce or estate.
- Whom you represent, and the fact that you have not provided legal advice to the the other party, and that the other party is aware of the need to consult with independent counsel, all need to be spelled out in the agreement you draft
- And while I am on that point, fastidiously avoid saying or doing anything that can be construed as legal advice to the unrepresented party. I can guarantee that that will come back and bite you in your nether regions.
- Seriously consider whether you even want to touch this with the virtual ten-foot pole. Can all the bases be covered in the brief twenty-four hour period? Who will be held responsible if it all blows up in your client’s face? Do you have time to do the investigation and consultation with your client necessary to protect him?
It’s for another post to talk about the ingredients of an effective, successful pre-nup. My advice is, unless you have a tried-and-proven form in which you have complete confidence based on its being upheld in other cases, you should not even attempt to do one. I also suggest that you never do a pre-nup at the eleventh hour, as was the case here.