Westchester County, NY Family Law Blog

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Landmark Decision in New York Prenuptial Agreement Case?

On February 20, 2013, a New York appellate court affirmed a Nassau County lower court’s decision to set aside the prenuptial agreement of Elizabeth Petrakis, a woman dubbed by ABC News as the “Long Island Millionare’s Wife” (see Cioffi-Petrakis v. Petrakis, 103 A.D.3d 766 (2nd Dept. 2013)).  Her attorney, Dennis D’Antonio, hailed  the ruling as “unprecedented”since it vacated the written agreement on the basis of a verbal promise by Mr. Petrakis (i.e., not to abide by the strict terms of the agreement following the wedding), even though a clause in the contract stated there could be no verbal promises.  While the decision of the appellate court was unusual in that regard, those New Yorkers who believe their prenuptial agreements now can be thrown in the dumpster  are in for a rude awakening.  New York courts have consistently enforced validly-executed prenuptial agreements that are not tainted by fraud, duress, or other inequitable conduct.  It is clear upon review of both the lower court and appellate decisions in Petrakis that the outcome was the exception rather than the rule, as it involved a very fact-specific set of circumstances, including a prenuptial agreement signed by the parties four days before the wedding, and certain actions by the husband following the date of marriage which convinced the court that he actually made some or all of the oral promises claimed by the wife in order to induce her to sign the agreement.  Nor did it help that the lower court found the husband’s testimony to be evasive and lacking in credibility. 

    This ruling is a cautionary tale to those contemplating a prenuptial agreement to ensure that it contains as much protective language as possible to withstand a later attack, and that the agreement is executed well before the wedding. While there can be no guarantee that a spouse will not challenge a prenuptial agreement in the future,  a well-drafted and appropriately-executed agreement will ensure that any possible areas of attack are reduced to a minimum, thereby discouraging any attempts to overturn it in the future. 

Berman Frucco Gouz Mitchel & Schub p.c. is located in White Plains, NY and serves clients throughout Westchester County, including but not limited to Ardsley, Bronxville, Bedford, Briarcliff Manor, Chappaqua, Dobbs Ferry, Eastchester, Harrison, Hartsdale, Hastings on-Hudson, Irvington, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Mount Kisco, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Pelham, Pleasantville, Pound Ridge, Purchase, Rye, Scarsdale, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, White Plains, Yonkers, and Yorktown.

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