The California Appellate Court recently upheld a spousal support waiver in a pre-nuptial agreement despite the fact that, under current California Law, the provision should be struck down as invalid.
In the May 24th, 2011 appellate court decision of In re Marriage of Howell, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District enforced a future spousal support waiver of a pre-nuptial agreement signed in 1999; despite the fact that under California Family Code section 1612, the provision should have been invalidated. Family Code section 1612, which is part of the Uniform Pre-Marital Agreement Act, provides in subsection (c) that:
Any provision in a premarital agreement regarding spousal support, including, but not limited to, a waiver of it, is not enforceable if the party against whom enforcement of the spousal support provision is sought was not represented by independent counsel at the time the agreement containing the provision was signed, or if the provision regarding spousal support is unconscionable at the time of enforcement.
Mrs. Howell signed the pre-nuptial agreement, containing a waiver of future alimony, at her husband’s request. At the time, she could not afford to hire an attorney to review the agreement and her husband (then, fiancé) did not offer to pay the cost for her to consult with an attorney.
At the trial court level, the court invalidated the spousal support waiver finding that Family Code section 1612, enacted in 2002, did in fact apply retroactively to the agreement, fully executed in 2002. On appeal, the appellate court did a full analysis of whether the statute should be applied retroactively to a 1999 agreement. Finding that it constituted a “material change in the law” and that it was not intended to apply retroactively, the appellate court ruled that the trial court erred in retroactively applying the statute and upheld the validity of the spousal support waiver.
If you have a Pre-Nuptial Agreement in place, if you are contemplating having one put together, or if you have been asked to sign a pre-nuptial agreement and you are concerned about how the Howell decision and Family Code Section 1612 may affect your rights, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have substantial experience in handling pre-nuptial agreements. Please call our office to schedule a free half hour consultation.