Some couples enter into marriage with a very specific contract already in place. Future spouses have long had the option of drafting a prenuptial agreement as a way to clarify expectations for the marriage and to take the conflict out of divorce proceedings, should divorce prove necessary.
In recent years, postnuptial agreements have become an increasingly popular alternative to prenuptial agreements. Couples that did not sign a contract prior to marriage may decide to negotiate an arrangement during their marriage.
The rules for postnuptial agreements in Massachusetts are different than the rules for prenuptial agreements, although the requirements are quite similar. What is necessary for a postnuptial agreement to be enforceable in the Massachusetts family courts?
Proper guidance for both spouses
A judge reviewing a postnuptial agreement needs to know that each spouse had the opportunity to present the document to an attorney representing their best interests. Having separate legal representation is crucial for those who want a postnuptial agreement to hold up under scrutiny in the future. Spouses will have to understand that signing the agreement essentially waives the right to a judicial division of property, and they must explicitly acknowledge this fact within the contract. Typically, having separate lawyers review the document on behalf of each spouse will help ensure that both parties are aware of the risks involved.
A lack of fraud or coercion
Another key component of a valid and enforceable postnuptial agreement is an absolute lack of fraud or coercion. Neither spouse should feel as though signing the agreement is their only option. Occasionally, people threaten one another, possibly using relationships with children or health insurance coverage as leverage. In addition to signing of one’s free will, there needs to be a lack of fraud or misrepresentation during the drafting process. Both spouses will need to provide accurate and thorough financial records showing both their resources and their debts. A failure to thoroughly disclose assets could invalidate the agreement.
Fair and reasonable terms
The final major consideration as established in prior court rulings in Massachusetts is that the agreement must have been reasonable and just based on marital circumstances when people signed the documents. They will need to continue to be reasonable and fair when the divorce occurs. In some cases, a drastic shift in financial matters or in someone’s health might lead to an agreement that was previously reasonable becoming so imbalanced that it seems unfair to the courts.
Understanding the rules that govern postnuptial agreements in Massachusetts may benefit those thinking about drafting a document and/or those who are concerned about the possibility of divorce.