Family Law Corner: Primetime Prenuptial Signed in Duress
When NFL superstar Deion Sanders recently filed for divorce, his wife, Pilar, claimed that the prenuptial agreement they signed should not be enforced because she did not voluntarily sign it and she was under considerable “duress” at the time of execution. FOX News has reported that pursuant to the prenuptial agreement, Deion must purchase a house for Pilar valued at one-half the cost of the house where they are living at the time of separation. Their current home is reportedly worth $21 million. Deion also wants Pilar to immediately vacate the family residence, claiming it is his separate property (most likely due to the terms of the agreement).
For her part, Pilar is accusing Deion of uncaring, insensitive, cruel and unusual treatment, as well as physical, mental and emotional abuse of her and their three children. It is unclear if her accusations relate directly to the duress that she alleges happened at the time of signing the prenuptial agreement, but she has confirmed that she had legal counsel when she signed the document.
In California, Family Code Section 1615 provides in part that a premarital agreement is not enforceable if a party did not execute it voluntarily. A court shall presume that the agreement was not executed voluntarily if the party against whom enforcement is sought had less than seven days between the date he or she received the document (and was advised to get a lawyer) and the date he or she signed it, or if the party executed the document under duress, fraud or undue influence. The recent case Marriage of Caldwell-Faso v. Faso held that the seven day waiting period does not apply if the party is represented by counsel from the outset. Id. 191 Cal.App.4th 945. And in cases related to the enforcement of marital agreements, duress is shown “where a party intentionally used threats or pressure to induce action or nonaction to the other party's detriment." In Re Balcof 141 Cal.App 4th 1509 (2006).
In Pilar’s case, if a judge concludes that she was in fact under duress when she signed the premarital agreement, then a California court would be required to find that the agreement was signed involuntarily and the agreement will likely be found unenforceable. Furthermore, the Balcof case also held that the party claiming duress is only required to show that duress occurred by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower burden of proof. Time will tell whether Pilar’s contentions have merit.