New Law Makes It Harder to Modify, Set Aside Premarital or Pre-Civil Union Agreements in New Jersey Family Court
Among the bills signed into law by Governor Chris Christie at the end of last week's legislative session in Trenton was S-2151/A-3315, a law designed to strengthen New Jersey premarital or pre-civil union agreements. Click here to read more about the legislation. Essentially, this bill eliminates the old statutory definition concerning what constitutes an “unconscionable” agreement in order to make it considerably harder for parties to challenge these documents after the fact. For example, an agreement could be modified or set aside before if it was deemed to “render a spouse or partner in a civil union couple without a means of reasonable support; make a spouse or partner in a civil union couple a public charge; or provide a standard of living far below that which was enjoyed before the marriage or civil union.” It's not hard to see how that standard was considered broad and, at least in the eyes of legislators and the bill's advocates, opened premarital agreements to significant challenges. From now on, however, an agreement won't be considered unconscionable when executed unless the party seeking to set it aside: (1) was not provided full and fair disclosure of the earnings, property, and financial obligations of the other party; (2) did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, any right to disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party beyond the disclosure provided; (3) did not have, or reasonably could not have had, an adequate knowledge of the property or financial obligations of the other party; or (4) did not consult with independent legal counsel and did not voluntarily and expressly waive, in writing, the opportunity to consult with independent legal counsel. It's important to note that this new legislation does not affect preexisting prenuptial agreements without updated revisions. Notably, per the bill's March 21st floor statement, “[o]nly premarital and pre-civil union agreements entered into on or after the effective date of the bill (immediately upon enactment), or entered into before the effective date but voluntarily revised by the parties on or after that effective date would be subject to its provisions.” Any agreements entered into before the law's effective date without subsequent amendments may still be set aside if they're deemed to have been “unconscionable” at the time of enforcement. But let's not get ahead of ourselves if you're not yet married or joined in a civil union. Determining whether a prenuptial or pre-civil union arrangement is right for you in the first place calls for a highly-contextual analysis of your unique situation. You should work closely with your attorneys to evaluate a number of factors including, but not limited to, the breadth, value, and quality of your pre-marital assets as well as the nature of your employment and the presence of any other extraordinary issues attendant to your pending marriage or civil union. More than ever before, the legislature's recent amendment to the premarital agreement statute makes it crucially important to get your agreement right on the first pass. The lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele are experienced prenuptial agreement attorneys. We will work with you to craft an agreement that protects your rights, property, and ability to focus on the joy of your nuptials. If you're seeking a divorce or dissolution after you've entered into such an agreement, we will carefully evaluate it line-by-line to help you craft the best litigation strategy moving forward. Don't hesitate to contact our firm online or call (856) 546-1350 today to schedule a confidential initial consultation.