Understanding California Prenuptial Agreements
In California, as in many other states, couples who are planning to marry may choose to enter into a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement, commonly referred to as a "prenup," is a legal contract created by two people before they marry. This contract typically outlines the ownership of their respective assets should the marriage end in divorce or death.
Enforceability of Prenuptial Agreements in California
Prenuptial agreements in California are generally enforceable if they meet specific statutory requirements. Under the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA), which California has adopted, prenups are considered valid if they are executed voluntarily and with a full and fair disclosure of the assets and debts of both parties.
For a California prenup to be enforceable, it must be:
- Written and Signed: Oral prenups are not recognized under California law. The agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties.
- Entered Into Voluntarily: Both parties must enter into the agreement voluntarily, without any coercion, fraud, or undue influence.
- Accompanied by Full Disclosure: There must be a complete and accurate disclosure of assets and debts by both parties unless this requirement is expressly waived in writing.
- Fair and Reasonable: The terms of the agreement cannot be unconscionable at the time of enforcement.
- Legal Representation: While not mandatory, it is highly recommended that each party have their own legal counsel to review the agreement. If not, a party must have had at least seven days to seek independent legal advice before signing the prenup.
An example of how these principles have been applied can be seen in the landmark case In re Marriage of Pendleton & Fireman. In this case, the California Supreme Court held that a premarital agreement was enforceable where both parties were well-informed and entered into the agreement freely and with an understanding of their rights.
Limits of Prenuptial Agreements
It's important to note that there are limits to what can be included in a prenuptial agreement. For instance:
- Prenups cannot make decisions about child support or custody.
- The right to spousal support can be waived as long as it is not unconscionable at the time of divorce.
- Provisions that encourage divorce are not enforceable.
Challenging Prenuptial Agreements
A spouse can challenge the validity of a prenuptial agreement on various grounds such as lack of voluntariness, absence of fair disclosure, or if it was signed under duress or undue influence. For example, in In re Marriage of Bonds, baseball player Barry Bonds' premarital agreement was upheld even though his spouse claimed she did not understand the implications when she signed it because she had adequate opportunity to obtain independent legal advice.
Prenuptial agreements in California are generally enforceable if they adhere to legal standards for fairness and voluntariness. Couples considering a prenup should ensure they understand their rights and obligations before signing. When properly executed, these agreements can provide clarity and peace of mind for both parties entering into a marriage.