Although few experts would question their usefulness, prenuptial agreements remain among the most controversial aspects of marriage and family law. The general public is becoming increasingly aware that, contrary to what many may assume, prenuptial agreements are primarily concerned with simplifying the property division process. Prenups are not just “tools of the rich” utilized only to guard assets selfishly. They are mainly used to prevent costly disputes and streamline the divorce process altogether. Parties often bicker about the enforceability of prenups when a marriage ultimately collapses. A recent example of this phenomenon is Miller v. Miller (2022). Let’s look at this case more carefully.
Factual Overview of the Case
The husband, in this case, was in his early 50s when he married his wife. The husband had already been married previously and had four adult children from his first marriage. The wife was in her late 20s when she met the husband and had a minor daughter. The husband owned and operated a successful construction and refrigeration company. And consequently, he entered the marriage in a financially superior position. The couple had a son together seven months after becoming engaged. Before tying the knot, the husband approached the wife about signing a prenuptial agreement. Notably, the husband paid for his attorney and an attorney for his wife during the contract negotiation and signing.
The wife requested specific revisions and obtained the changes she desired in some cases. When the couple eventually divorced, the wife attempted to have the prenuptial agreement declared void and unenforceable. The courts disagreed.
Key Takeaway: The Importance of Meaningful Choice
The wife attempted to invalidate the prenuptial agreement on the ground of “unconscionability.” This means that the contract terms were so lopsided unfair, and unenforceable. Unconscionability typically requires lopsided terms and an uneven or unfair bargaining process that enables one party to achieve a superior position. The court determined that unconscionability didn’t apply to this case because the husband had paid for his wife’s legal counsel. And the other aspects of the bargaining process were also seemingly even-handed and fair. Furthermore, the court also concluded that there was no evidence of duress, fraud, or coercion. Given these realities, there were no other bases to collapse the agreement, and the court ultimately held for the husband.
Simply because one party ends up with a somewhat better deal doesn’t mean that a given contract is unconscionable. This is true for prenuptial agreements, just as it is for other agreements. If terms favor one party, this alone doesn’t lead to unconscionability because this can mean that one party outbargained the other party. An unequal bargaining process is needed, which creates an absence of “meaningful choice.” When that happens, then you may take lopsided terms to indicate unconscionability.
Contact the Murphy Law Firm for More Information
We will likely come back and discuss prenuptial agreements again soon, as this continues to be a hot topic in Maryland family law. If you’d like to learn more, reach out to one of the top family law attorneys at The Murphy Law Firm today by calling 240-493-9116.