In a recent Nassau County case, the Supreme Court set aside a Prenuptial Agreement finding that the Husband fraudulently induced the Wife to execute a prenuptial agreement. To sustain this burden in the Petrakis case, the Wife had to prove a misrepresentation of a material fact, which the Husband knew was false and intended to be relied upon by the Wife when it was made and that there was justifiable reliance upon this material fact and a resulting wrong. The prenuptial agreement in this case was signed 4 days prior to the parties’ June 28, 1998 wedding and both parties were represented by attorneys specializing in matrimonial law. The prenuptial Agreement did contain a merger clause. After 13 days of trial, the lower court found that the Wife met her burden of proof to show that the Husband fraudulently induced her to sign the prenuptial agreement by making certain promises to her, including that any property that he would acquire after the marriage would be “ours.” The Wife testified that several days prior to signing the agreement she met with her fiancee who made certain promises to her while they were having dinner, and based on those oral promises she agreed to sign the agreement. The attorney who represented the Wife in connection with the prenuptial agreement testified that he was not made aware of the oral promises made by the Husband until several years after the execution of the agreement when the parties were discussing a post nuptial agreement that was never signed. The Court concluded that the Husband made promises to the Wife without the intention of honoring them so that she would signed the prenuptial agreement before the wedding could proceed. The Court also noted that the Husband “blindsided” the wife by waiting 19 months to tell her about the prenuptial agreement commenting that several years prior to the parties’ engagement, the Husband casually mentioned that he would require a prenuptial agreement but did not mention it again until about one month prior to the wedding. This case was affirmed on appeal. COIFFI-PETRAKIS v. PETRAKIS, 103 AD3d 766, 960 NYS2d 152 (2nd Dept. 2/20/13) Leave to appeal denied by 21 NY3d 860, N.Y. June 27,2013.
This case has rocked the matrimonial world and attorneys are carefully rethinking and redrafting their prenuptial agreements to avoid potential claims. Attorneys must become aware of and try to avoid issues that may possibly arise later that stem from possible allegations of fraud, overreaching, unconscionability, etc. One lesson from Petrakis is that attorneys must identify any oral promises specifically in the merger clause of prenuptial agreements so as to avoid an argument being set aside based upon alleged oral promises.