A prenuptial agreement (also called antenuptial agreements or separation agreements) is simply an agreement made by a couple before they marry concerning their assets and support should they divorce. Under most circumstances, a prenuptial agreement is enforceable under Michigan law. An exception exists if a spouse is left with nothing, in such an instant a court may invade the separate property of the other spouse.
In this three part series on prenuptial agreements in Michigan we examine the law governing prenuptial agreements in Michigan.
I. Validity of prenuptial agreements in Michigan.
The seminal Michigan prenuptial agreement case is Rinvelt v. Rinvelt, “We . . . hold that such provisions with certain limitations, are enforceable in Michigan.”
II. Standards of enforceability of prenuptial agreements in Michigan per Rinvelt.
- Voluntariness. Was the agreement obtained through fraud, duress, mistake, misrepresentsation or nondisclosure of a material fact?
- Unconsionablity. Was the agreement unconscionable when executed?
- Change in circumstances. Have the facts and circumstances changed since the agreement was executed, so as to make its enforcement unfair and unreasonable?
III. Seminal prenuptial agreement case law.
a. Rinvelt v. Rinvelt , 190 Mich. App. 372 (1991)
“[D]efendent contends that the circuit court erred in strictly enforcing an antenuptial [prenuptial] agreement that contained provisions governing distribution of the marital estate in the event of divorce. We disagree, and hold that such provisions, with certain limitations are enforceable in Michigan.”
b. Hockenberry v. Donovan, 170 Mich. 370 (1912)
“In order for an antenuptial agreement [prenuptial agreements] to be valid, it must be fair, equitable and reasonable in view of the surrounding facts and circumstances. It must be entered into voluntarily by both parties, with each understanding his or her rights and the extent of the waiver of such rights. Antenuptial agreements give rise to a special duty of disclosure not required in ordinary contract relationships so that the parties will be fully informed before entering into such agreements.” . . .
The general rule is that an “antenuptial contract [prenuptial agreement] which provides for, facilitates, or tends to induce a separation or divorce of the parties after marriage, is contrary to public policy, and is therefore void.”
To be enforceable, the agreement must be fair, equitable and reasonable under the circumstances, and must be entered into voluntarily, with full disclosure, and with the rights of each party and the extent of the waiver of such rights understood.
In addition, the agreement should be free from fraud, lack of consent, mental incapacity, or undue influence.
Finally, where the agreement is challenged, the burden of proof and persuasion is on the party challenging the validity. The following three criteria are typically considered:
1. Was the agreement obtained through fraud, duress or mistake, or misrepresentation or nondisclosure of material fact?
2. Was the agreement unconscionable when executed?
3. Have the facts and circumstances changed since the agreement was executed, so as to make its enforcement unfair and unreasonable?
If none of the above factors are present, prenuptial agreements have generally been accorded judicial recognition.
In parts two and three of this series, we will examine the law governing Voluntariness, Unconsionablity and change in circumstances.
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By: Daniel Findling