In my last blog post on the subject, I summarized the elements which every prenuptial (a.k.a. antenuptial) agreement must have in order to be enforced in the State of Michigan.
In this post, we’ll discuss how proving duress or fraud in the establishment of a prenuptial agreement can late result in its undoing.
What is fraud? Black’s Law Dictionary defines fraud generally as “some deceitful practice or willful device, resorted to with intent to deprive another of his right, or in some manner to do him injury. As distinguished from negligence, it is always positive, intentional.”
So in the context of a prenuptial agreement, fraud can exist where the parties purposefully and intentionally obscure or hide some relevant information about themselves, their past, their health, the finances, their family, or any other topic which may affect the decision-making of the other party when contemplating entering into the agreement. Significantly, the fraud, by its nature, must be intentional.
What is duress? Duress is a funny word, in that is can mean many things, depending on the context in which it is used. For the purposes of this discussion, we are thinking about the concept of someone being under duress because of the influence of another. A related term that helps clarify is undue influence. In the context of a prenuptial agreement there will often be stress felt by both parties. It is not necessarily an easy conversation to have between two people contemplating marriage. When does a sense of obligation to do (or sign) something become unduly influencing? Let us return to Black’s Law Dictionary.
Undue influence is defined as “persuasion carried to the point of overpowering the will [of another], or such a control over the person in question as prevents him from acting intelligently, understanding, and… constrains him to do what he would not have done if such control had not been exercised.”
So when we think about duress and prenuptial agreements, we are concerned about whether both parties to the contract have had the opportunity to review, contemplate, negotiate about prenuptial agreement’s terms, or seek independent legal counsel to better understand the contract. The most common situation in which prenuptial agreements are held to be void by Michigan Courts is where evidence exists that one party was forced to sign the agreement without notice. Example: One party says to the other on their wedding day: “If you don’t sign this agreement we won’t be getting married.”