Prenups: Sometimes ‘Callous’ yet Legally Binding

Those that have endured divorce proceedings know well that emotions can escalate quickly and sometimes without warning, and that even when situations seem relatively amicable, one small disagreement on the value of an asset or about child custody can instantaneously set back the entire process.  Marital agreements, (also known as prenuptial agreements) can be both a source of relief as well as contention,  especially those who enter marriages with individual assets–be they real estate, businesses, trust funds, etc.  The legal protection can be a lifesaver should a relationship dissolve. Too often however, those deep in the throes of love forget the truth that some relationships, do fail. Having a level of legal protection, courtesy of a marital agreement, may be the difference between an amicable or nasty separation.

Case in point: Gottlieb v Gottlieb, 311197/12.  A hedge fund magnate by the name of Jacob Gottlieb met, fell in love and moved in with Alexandra Lumiere. Prior to Gottlieb’s proposal of marriage, he explained that he would not go through with a marriage unless and until Lumiere signed a prenuptial agreement. Lumiere, being advised not to by her matrimonial attorney, expressed objections to the agreement contents and postponed signing it after Gottlieb progressively reduced his offer. One year later, Lumiere became pregnant with the couple’s first child yet Gottlieb refused to consecrate the marriage until after the child’s birth, at which time he again lowered his prenuptial agreement offer.  When Lumiere became pregnant with the couple’s second child three years after they met, she claimed she succumbed to his unfair demands in order to “end the madness.” The prenup entitled Lumiere to a lump sum payment of $1.6 million and the right to live in an $8.9 million Manhattan apartment for the next 10 years with maintenance utilities and health insurance for her and the children, after which the apartment would revert to Gottlieb. While various additions and stipulations were made within the marital agreement, the question posed in this case is whether or not a “callous” prenuptial agreement is legally-binding and enforceable? 

The courts ruled that yes, it is. 

In the opinion, Justice David Saxe asserted that “the purpose of such agreements is not to achieve fairness, but to protect the assets of the monied party from being turned over to the other, and to strictly limit what the non-monied spouse will receive in the event of a divorce.” Furthermore, the court opined that Gottlieb “indicated to his fiancée (Lumiere) that he was not prepared to be generous with her in any way and that marriage to him required her to accept a hard bargain.”

While Gottlieb never fully disclosed his income and financial holdings in full as the agreement was being negotiated, the courts did not find his dealings unfair. Lumiere, held an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania and had worked in the finance industry, therefore, fully understood the information that was provided.  In the end, the court made it clear that “the refusal to marry a pregnant girlfriend without a prenuptial agreement is not in itself overreaching or duress.”

Therefore, even if a marital agreement seems unequal, once it is finalized and signed, (regardless of how seemingly “unfair” or “callous”), it is legally-binding.

The Law Offices of Russell I. Marnell, P.C. can assist in expertly crafting a comprehensive and completely collaborative prenuptial agreement that sensitively considers each party’s concerns. Contact us at: 1-866-MARNELL (866-627-6355) to arrange a consultation.

*The information contained in this blog is presented as general information and is not to be construed as legal advice to apply to any person or particular situation. Please keep in mind that the law is constantly changing and therefore you should always consult an attorney for legal advice based on the individual circumstances of your situation.*