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What are the legal requirements for postnuptial agreements in Massachusetts?

A postnuptial agreement is a document signed by spouses during the course of their marriage concerning the division of marital property in the event of divorce. In the family law case Ansin v. Craven-Ansin (2010), the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that postnuptial agreements may be legally enforceable in Massachusetts provided certain requirements in its drafting and execution are met.

Postnuptial agreements strictly scrutinized

In Massachusetts, as a condition of sanctioning postnuptial agreements, courts must strictly scrutinize the facts and circumstances surrounding the creation of the agreement. When passing on the validity of a postnuptial agreement, the court will examine the following:

  • Separate counsel. For a postnuptial agreement to be valid, the evidence must show that each spouse had the opportunity to obtain separate legal counsel of his or her choosing to represent his or her interests in negotiating the marital agreement.
  • Free from fraud or coercion. Before a postnuptial agreement will be sanctioned by the court, it must be satisfied that neither fraud nor coercion played a role in the agreement. Evidence of lengthy and/or vigorous negotiations involving separate experienced counsel is persuasive evidence that neither fraud nor coercion were involved. If it is alleged that a party misrepresented his or her intention to stay in the marriage at the time the agreement was signed, the court will look to evidence illustrative of intent to the contrary.
  • Full disclosure of assets. Before a postnuptial agreement is signed there must have been a full disclosure of assets. The duty of spouses to fully disclose assets is greater in the context of a postnuptial agreement, first because of the duty of absolute fidelity owed by spouses to each other, and second because there is no legal safeguard, like court-ordered disclosure in divorce, to compel full disclosure. The requirement of full disclosure can generally be satisfied if prior to signing each party provides the other with a written statement accurately listing approximate values of significant assets, income and future assets and income to which the party either reasonable expects to realize or has a current legal entitlement to.
  • Knowing waiver of rights granted under law. Because postnuptial agreements establish each party's property rights in the event of divorce, it is critical to the agreement's validity that each spouse knowingly and explicitly agreed in writing to waive his or her property rights granted under law. This means a party should understand the agreement's affect on property rights and the extent to which that effect differs if the agreement had not been executed.
  • Fair and reasonable. A postnuptial agreement must have been fair and reasonable at the time it was executed as well as at the time of divorce. In analyzing the fairness of the agreement at the time it was executed, the court will consider the entire context in which it arose, including the magnitude of any disparity between the outcome under the agreement compared to outcome under prevailing legal principles, whether the purpose of the agreement was to protect the interests of third parties (such as children from prior relationships), the impact of the agreement on the parties' children and the length of the marriage. In analyzing the fairness of the agreement at the time of dissolution of marriage, the court will consider, among other factors, the financial and property provisions as a whole, the context of the negotiations and the complexity of issues involved.

Speak to a Massachusetts family law attorney

Because postnuptial or marital agreements in Massachusetts must be strictly scrutinized by the court before it may be sanctioned, it is critical to work with an experience lawyer who will ensure all legal requirements are met in the drafting and execution of the agreement.

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