A recent decision by a New York Appellate Court could have a dramatic impact on how prenuptial agreements are enforced. In a rare turn of events, the court threw out the agreement based solely on a subsequent oral promise.
The divorce law decision is groundbreaking because courts generally view prenups as etched in stone, even in the face of evidence that the parties made other promises outside of the agreement.
In this case, Elizabeth Cioffi-Petrakis alleged that she was presented with a prenuptial agreement a few days before her wedding to Peter Petrakis. Petrakis told Cioffi-Petrakis that his lawyers insisted on the agreement to protect his business interests, and that if she failed to sign the agreement, he would be forced to call off the wedding.
Privately, however, Petrakis promised to tear up the agreement once the couple had children. He also made assurances that he would add his wife’s name to the deed to the house.
Petrakis never fulfilled his promise to destroy the agreement after the birth of their three children or amend the deed. As a result, the prenuptial agreement became a key factor in their ongoing divorce proceedings.
In a recent decision, a New York appellate upheld a lower court ruling that Petrakis had committed “fraud by the inducement” and voided the contract. The divorce proceedings will now continue without the agreement in place, putting Cioffi-Petrakis in a much better position.
The legal world is buzzing because scorned spouses around the country will now be able to point to this case when urging courts to set aside a prenuptial agreement. Assuming the case is upheld, parties who make specific promises to induce the other to sign the agreement and then fail to follow through may very well see the prenup go out the window.