Spousal support and prenuptial agreements often make headlines in high profile divorces; however, the lesser known separation agreement (a type of post-nuptial agreement) can also pose difficult issues for divorced couples. In North Carolina, for example, NASCAR Chairman Brian France is fighting to rescind a separation agreement that calls for him to pay more than $40,000 a month in spousal and child support. [NASCAR Divorce Case Gets Messier]. These types of agreements involving spousal support are valid under California law.
Separation agreements—also referred to as property settlement agreements or marital settlement agreements— are often executed by spouses when their marriage breaks down. The parties are free to agree to a division of property rights and/or rights and duties of spousal and child support, and then have a court approve the agreement. There are, however, statutory limitations on agreements regarding spousal support that must be taken into consideration.
One of the primary obligations imposed by statute on married persons is the obligation of support. Spousal support provides one’s spouse with the necessities of life, measured by the lifestyle of the particular parties. This obligation of support has long been regarded as unalterable during marriage. California Family Code section 1620 explicitly states, “Except as otherwise provided by law, a husband and wife cannot, by a contract with each other, alter their legal relations, except as to property.” Therefore, spouses in an ongoing marriage may not enter into post-nuptial agreements waiving or limiting the right of either spouse to support the other in the event of separation.
Section 3580 of the California Family Code, however, creates an exception to this prohibition. A husband and wife may agree, in writing, to an immediate separation and may provide in the agreement for the support of either of them and of their children during the separation or upon the dissolution of their marriage. The important distinction is that this agreement can only be made when a couple is ready for an immediate separation. Absent an immediate intent to separate, a court will not uphold a post-nuptial agreement altering spousal support.
If you have a post-nuptial agreement in place, if you are contemplating having one put together, or if you have been asked to sign a post-nuptial agreement and you are concerned about how it may affect your rights, the Certified Family Law Specialists* at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have substantial experience in handling post-nuptial agreements. Please call our office to schedule a free 1/2 hour consultation.
*Certified Family Law Specialist, The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization