The divorce between rapper entrepreneur Dr. Dre (Andre Young) and his wife, Nicole Young, has recently taken a turn for the worst with news that Ms. Young has filed court papers stating that she signed a prenuptial agreement under duress. Young has also claimed that Dr. Dre ripped up the prenup documents three years into their marriage as a sign of his love, therefore rendering the terms unenforceable.
Nicole will need to prove to a California court evidence of her duress claims. But what about him destroying their prenuptial agreement? Does this act now render it unenforceable in court? First, let's talk about the validity of a prenup.
Texas has a strong public policy favoring premarital agreements, and in analyzing an agreement, the law requires looking only to the four-corners of the document to determine the parties’ intent. The burden is on the party trying to invalidate the agreement to prove fraud.
In Texas, a premarital agreement is presumed valid and only limited defenses are available to invalidate a pre-nup. One defense is that the party did not sign the agreement voluntarily. (Tex. Fam. Code §4.006(a)(1).)
Typical contract defenses such as fraud are appropriately considered in the ultimate determination of voluntariness. Generally, whether a party executed an agreement voluntarily or as the result of a state of duress or coercion is a question of fact dependent upon all the circumstances and the mental effect on the party claiming involuntary execution.
Common factors considered in assessing voluntariness include:
The level of business sophistication of the parties;
The overall maturity level of the parties;
The education level of the parties;
Familiarity with premarital agreements and their impact upon martial property rights;
The parties’ course of dealing and length of negotiation in executing the premarital agreement; and
Each party’s use of independent counsel.
The three most common grounds for nullifying a prenup are unconscionability, failure to disclose, or duress and coercion.
Unconscionability may be present if the agreement is patently unfair to one party. However, an agreement isn’t automatically unconscionable if one spouse receives more than the other under its terms.
Disclosures are also important for prenups. The amount of alimony or property division you would receive in a divorce is dependent on your spouse’s income and wealth. If they hid assets or didn’t tell you about valuable business interests they held, then you didn’t really know what rights you were giving up by signing the prenup.
Duress and coercion can also invalidate a prenup. If the prenup was signed the day before your wedding, it may appear that the parties didn’t have much time to fully review the agreement. One party may have felt forced to sign the document in order to move forward with the wedding.
Now for the answer.
As mentioned above, prenuptial agreements are nothing more than a contract between two individuals who plan to marry. A contract becomes a contract once the offer has been accepted. In this case, the acceptance of a prenup is when you sign it (absent of the above-mentioned grounds for nullification).
In addition, in order to amend or revoke the prenuptial agreement, the parties must draft and sign a new written document stating their intent to alter or revoke the prenuptial agreement, like a post-nuptial agreement. Thus, tearing up the prenuptial agreement is not enough to satisfy revocation.
A great case to read on this matter is Braha v Braha. In this case a Brooklyn judge ruled that a prenuptial agreement was still enforceable even if the parties dramatically ripped up copies of the document on their honeymoon. The parties were married after a 3-week courtship and the husband’s dad urged the signing of the prenuptial agreement or he would have cut his son off financially. The prenuptial agreement limited alimony to five years and limited the wife’s right to some of the assets. The judge decided that the document is enforceable because it specifically states that no other agreements besides the prenuptial agreement will be valid.