By Polina Bodner Shapiro, Esq.
Until recently, agreements made prior to a marriage regarding the dissolution of the marriage were disfavored in the United States and Connecticut. That changed in 1980 with the ruling of the Connecticut Supreme Court case of McHugh v. McHugh, which stated that prenuptial agreements can be binding on the court in a marriage dissolution action.
Prenuptial agreements have a strong presumption of validity, and are generally upheld by the courts. Prenuptial agreements can be challenged on the principle of unconscionability, which is often difficult to prove. As a result, the courts are reluctant to refuse the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement, unless there is a striking evidence of injustice, unfairness and/or unconscionability present in the circumstances surrounding the execution of the agreement.
Earlier this year, the Connecticut courts were called upon to investigate the enforceability of postnuptial agreements. Postnuptial agreement is entered into by spouses after marriage but before separation. In the recent Connecticut Supreme Court case Bedrick v. Bedrick, the Court showed renewed skepticism for enforcing agreements regarding dissolution actions between the spouses. In Bedrick case, Deborah and Bruce Bedrick executed a postnuptial agreement one year after their marriage, setting out their rights and responsibilities in case ofdivorce. Their agreement called for a one-time cash settlement instead of any alimony.
When Mrs. Bedrick filed for divorce, she sought to receive alimony and an equitable distribution of their property. Mr. Bedrick insisted on having the postnuptial agreement enforced – deny all alimony and distribution of property in exchange for a cash settlement. This case ultimately ended in the Connecticut Supreme Court. While noting that postnuptial and prenuptial agreements are very similar to each other, the Court nonetheless provided a list of strict “fairness” requirements that must be present in order to have an enforceable postnuptial agreement. The Court reasoned that was necessary to ensure that spouses were not forced into agreements under the threat of divorce. Under
the fairness test, the Court ruled that the Bedrick’s postnuptial agreement was
unenforceable because of the spouses’ combined commitments to the property at stake (primarily, a car wash business which they had both worked at for 30 years) and the large difference between the settlement amount and the value of the property.
If you want to make sure that the agreement you make regarding the dissolution of a marriage is enforced in court, it is best to execute that agreement before you take your
vows. Prenuptial agreements have a better chance than postnuptial agreements of being accepted by the court as binding on the parties.