Increasingly, couples are using prenuptial agreements to protect their financial interests in case their marriage ends in divorce. Referred to as antenuptial documents in Massachusetts statutes, these documents even help spouses who are not very wealthy by avoiding protracted litigation regarding property division and alimony terms. To be valid, each party must sign a prenuptial agreement voluntarily following an honest exchange of financial information. Like other contracts, a prenup is not enforceable if the terms of the document are unconscionable.

But what happens if the agreement as written is acceptable, but circumstances over the course of a marriage mean that implementing the terms of the document would be unduly harsh to one party? This was the question facing the Massachusetts Appeals Court in Rudnick v. Rudnick. In this case, an 85-year old woman sought to throw out the prenup she and her husband signed the day before their wedding 27 years earlier.

At the time of their marriage, both spouses had children from earlier marriages. In light of this, the prenuptial agreement declared that all separate property that either spouse owned at the time would not become part of the divisible marital estate. Moreover, neither party would be entitled to any alimony. The factual record reflects that Mrs. Rudnick’s attorney advised her not to sign the document, but she ignored his counsel.

The prenup also stated that any real estate purchased during the course of the marriage would be owned in equal shares by the spouses as tenants in common. Mrs. Rudnick had no reason to believe that her husband violated this term when houses were purchased in Massachusetts and Florida. However, she learned at the time of the divorce that she actually had no ownership in either property. Mr. Rudnick solely owned one home and a trust created for the benefit of his children owned the other.

While Mr. Rudnick tried to enforce the prenuptial agreement, the Appeals Court upheld the trial court’s decision that a “second look” was warranted to determine if the terms of the document were still conscionable. From there, the court held that the prenup was invalid due to the fact that it would have left an elderly woman without the means to support herself financially as well as Mr. Rudnick’s violation of the tenancy-in-common agreement.

If you’re concerned about protecting your assets in a divorce or have questions about the validity of a prenuptial agreement, you should consult an experienced Massachusetts attorney to learn how the law applies in your case.  

Greco Law, PLLC in Woburn represents clients in divorces and other family law matters throughout the Boston area, including Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk counties. I can review an existing antenuptial agreement and advise if a court might find it unconscionable given the current circumstances. To speak with me, please call 978-806-6922 or contact me online.