The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s decision that a prenuptial agreement was invalid, holding that the prenuptial agreement should be enforced. The case at issue was In Re: Marianna Nizhnikov and Alexander Nizhnikov (January 26, 1016).
At its core, a prenuptial agreement is a contract and is analyzed accordingly. However, because of their nature, prenuptial agreements get greater scrutiny from the courts than other types of contracts.
A prenuptial agreement will not be enforced if either:
- It was obtained through fraud, duress, or mistake, or through misrepresentation of a material fact;
- The agreement is “unconscionable”; or
- The facts and circumstances have so changed since the agreement was executed as to make the agreement unenforceable.
While the Nizhnikov’s were engaged Alexander prepared a prenuptial agreement that Marianna had translated into Russian, her native language. About two weeks later they signed the prenuptial and were married on the same day. The trial judge seemed to rule against the prenuptial agreement because he thought it was based on duress. He felt that the agreement was invalid because it was signed on the day of the marriage and the parties did not disclose their full financial documents to each other.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the trial judge’s decision holding that the prenuptial agreement should have been enforced. It was important to the Supreme Court that, even though the prenuptial agreement was signed on the same day of the marriage, it had been prepared and reviewed by the parties weeks earlier. It wasn’t important to the Supreme Court that the spouses had not exchanged financial documents because Marianna had enough time to investigate Alexander’s finances before the wedding. The Court also took into account that Marianna was well educated and had a successful professional career in Russia. So there was no reason to think she was tricked or did not understand the prenuptial agreement she signed.
This was a close case and easily could have gone the other way. The lesson is that, if you are planning on getting married and thinking about asking for a prenuptial agreement, or you have been asked to sign one, it is strongly recommended that you plan in as far advance of the marriage as possible and that each party seek an independent lawyer to negotiate the agreement. The money you will have to spend fighting about the prenuptial agreement if there is ever a divorce will be much, much greater than what you spend upfront to get the agreement done right.