Many Maryland couples sign a prenuptial agreement before they solemnize their marriage, but once the agreement is signed and the marriage ceremony completed, one or both spouses may wonder if the agreement is enforceable. If a prenuptial agreement meets the requirements of the Maryland statutes governing such agreements, it will generally be enforceable in all circumstances. If, however, the agreement fails to satisfy one or more of the statutory conditions of validity, a court may decide that the entire agreement is unenforceable in its entirety.
The first and most important requirement for declaring a prenuptial agreement valid and enforceable is that the agreement be in writing and signed by both parties before the wedding takes place. Verbal agreements are not enforceable, even if one member of the couple has signed it. Prenuptial agreements can also be declared invalid if one party did not read it before signing or if one party was pressured by the other party to sign the agreement without having adequate time to read it or consult an attorney about it.
A related reason for declaring a prenuptial agreement invalid is an act of fraud by the party seeking to enforce the agreement. If the party seeking enforcement has concealed material facts about his or her financial situation or ownership of certain assets, a court may decide that the entire agreement is void and that provisions that appear to give one party an advantage in dividing marital property will be declared invalid. Certain clauses are unenforceable as a matter of law. A prenuptial agreement cannot give away a parent’s right to child custody or waive any right of financial support for children of the marriage.
Courts may also refuse to enforce the terms of a premarital agreement if the entire agreement provides an unfair or unconscionable agreement to one party. Such decisions are rare, but neither spouse will be allowed to use the agreement to gain an unfair advantage over the other party.
Premarital agreements can have long lasting and serious financial consequences. For this reason, any person contemplating marriage who has been asked to sign a premarital agreement may wish to seek the advice of an experienced divorce lawyer before signing the agreement.