Love is blind, until one member of the couple opens his or her eyes and says, “Wait a minute, what did I just sign?” When you’re getting married, it’s not uncommon to sign a prenuptial agreement (also known as a prenup). The goal of a prenup is to protect both spouses financially in the event of a divorce. But, what if you were forced or tricked into signing one? Read on to learn whether an involuntary prenup is valid, and what your rights are.
The Laws on Prenups
In order for the prenup to be enforceable, it has to meet four criteria. Firstly, the agreement has to be in writing (oral agreements won’t hold up in court). Secondly, both parties have to sign it. Thirdly, witnesses must be present for the signing. Finally, both parties need to fully disclose everything before they sign the document.
When Prenups Aren’t Valid
What if your prenup doesn’t meet one of those four criteria? There’s a good chance a judge will rule that it isn’t legally binding. In many well-known court cases, prenups have been overturned.
In August 2006, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that Bruce LeVan had to pay his ex-wife Erika $3 million in equalization payments because he hid the value of his assets from her before the couple signed a prenuptial agreement. LeVan had told his wife their marriage wouldn’t go ahead unless she signed. He appealed but the Ontario Court of Appeals upheld the decision.
That same year, the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that Dennis and Judy Lambert’s prenup was invalid, too. The couple began living together in 1992 and married in 1995. Before the marriage, the couple signed a prenuptial agreement. Dennis and Judy separated in 2004, which is when Judy discovered her soon-to-be ex-husband’s assets were worth $1.3 million. Judy’s lawyers argued that Dennis withheld information from her before the prenup was signed, and that she didn’t realize she needed legal advice before signing. As a result, the court ruled that she didn’t understand the nature of the prenup, rendering it invalid.
What If I Was Forced into Signing A Contract?
Let’s say that you had a written agreement that was witnessed and signed. Before you signed the agreement, you knew all of the stakes. Yet, you really didn’t want to sign it. Someone else forced you into it.
Even if you knew what you were getting into, coercion can threaten the validity of a contract.
Here’s an example ripped from the headlines involving a famous Canadian family. In 2011, Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, divorced his wife Christine. Before their divorce, Michael’s father Wallace (founder of McCain Foods) forced all of his children’s spouses to sign agreements in which they gave up their rights to spousal support and McCain Foods’ assets. Wallace McCain was adamant the family’s wealth stay in the family and not be leached away by marital breakups. If they didn’t sign, the elder McCain threatened to disinherit his children and pass along his wealth straight to his grandchildren. Under those circumstances, Christine felt compelled to sign the agreement.
Ontario Supreme Court Justice Susan Greer overturned the section of the agreement dealing with spousal support. Christine McCain won a settlement of $175,000 per month.
Get Expert Legal Advice about Prenups and Divorce
Galbraith Family Law lawyers are trained in Collaborative Practice, and we have been named the top firm by the Barrie Examiner multiple times. Our legal insights have also been featured in the Globe and Mail and Lawyers Weekly
Click here to contact us, or to schedule a consultation. Or you can call the local office listed at the top of the page.