Massachusetts Authorizes Post-Nuptial Agreements

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled recently that agreements between spouses who plan to continue their marriage but wish to define their legal rights and obligations in the event of divorce are enforceable in that state. Some states (notably Ohio) do not permit spouses to execute agreements waiving their marital rights unless they are actually pursuing divorce, and the law of many states is unsettled. In its recent decision, the highest court of Massachusetts joined the ranks of states (including Pennsylvania) where such “post-nuptial” agreements are permissible.

Post-nuptial agreements may combine certain elements of prenuptial agreements with features of marital settlement agreements. Post-nuptial agreements may divide marital property between spouses, protect their separate property, and establish or restrict spousal support and alimony, like settlement agreements. Post-nuptial agreements can also protect family businesses, inheritance, and other separate property to be acquired in the future, just as prenuptial agreements do.

In Ansin v. Ansin-Cravin, 457 Mass. 283, 929 N.E.2d 955 (2010), the husband and wife entered into a post-nuptial agreement two years before their eventual divorce. The post-nuptial agreement in that case gave the parties a chance to attempt marital reconciliation while removing the financial risk of taking “one last chance”. The couple had been married for nineteen years at the time of their agreement. At that point, the husband separated from his wife and advised her that he would not return unless she would sign an agreement. She hired legal counsel, investigated the nature and value of their assets, and negotiated the terms of the agreement.

Having signed the agreement, the husband and wife reconciled for nearly two years. Ultimately the reconciliation did not last, but the parties were able to avoid the stress and expense of protracted divorce litigation by having an agreement in place (at least, they would have avoid those pitfalls if the wife had not challenged the validity of the agreement). The Massachusetts court applied the same standards to post-nuptial agreements as many states employ when judging the validity of prenuptial agreements and settlement agreements: (1) availability of independent legal counsel; (2) full and fair disclosure of financial resources; (3) absence of fraud or duress; and (4) reasonableness of the provisions for each spouse.

Pennsylvania has long recognized post-nuptial agreements, and for good reason. When entering into a post-nuptial agreement, full and fair disclosure is an essential element; and it may be important to engage legal counsel. While formbooks and software programs may contain “boilerplate” prenuptial agreements, post-nuptial agreements are very different and require the skill of an experienced family law attorney.

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