An introduction to Pennsylvania postnuptial agreements

Entering into a marital contract after marriage is becoming more popular and may be wise in certain situations.

Most people have heard wild stories about prenuptial agreements in celebrity marriages in which rich and famous people imposed marital contracts on their spouses-to-be to keep fortunes from being split in future divorces. While prenups have become more common and accepted, many people do not know much about postnuptial agreements, which are private marital contracts between spouses during marriage, rather than before.

Postnups

Postnuptial contracts, particularly in Pennsylvania, are usually used to predetermine how money, personal property, real estate, business interests, investments, retirement benefits and other assets will be divided upon divorce or when one partner dies. Postnups can be modified later in the marriage.

Reasons

Harper's Bazaar just published a new article devoted to postnuptial agreements. Some of the reasons for them explored by Harper's include:

  • To help resolve marital problems like those caused by infidelity or dishonesty
  • To be sure the other spouse is provided for in case of divorce
  • To keep certain property separate such as family businesses, professional practices or real estate
  • To simplify or shorten divorce negotiations or proceedings should they occur
  • To provide for other people like children from a previous relationship or disabled family members
  • To make good decisions without the stress of marital discord or divorce
  • To help with business succession planning
  • To preserve the nature of separate or inherited property
  • To provide for a special expense such as college tuition for children
  • For reasons only known privately by the particular couple
  • Because there was not time for a prenuptial agreement
  • And others

Interestingly, the article cites a 2015 American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers survey for the figure that 50 percent of family lawyers reported higher interest in postnuptial agreements in the three previous years.

Pennsylvania law

As the article points out, each state has its own law surrounding execution and validity of postnuptial agreements. Pennsylvania is a rather extreme state in how it treats marital agreements, both pre- and postmarital. While many states in determining whether a postmarital agreement is valid will look at issues of fairness or access to legal counsel, Pennsylvania law treats marital agreements more like private business contracts.

Accordingly, even though there may be unequal fortunes between the parties, the negotiation was emotional or the postnup seems unreasonable or unfair, if it appears to the Pennsylvania court that it was basically an informed, arms-length contract negotiation between the parties, the agreement will usually be upheld. The reasons for invalidating a postnuptial agreement in Pennsylvania are those that would invalidate any other contract like clear and convincing evidence of duress, for example.

A postnup will be invalidated, however, if one party did not provide full, fair disclosure of all assets before the contract was signed.

Get legal advice

Anyone with questions about the pros and cons or legal issues related to postnups should speak with a lawyer. It is definitely important to have an attorney review any kind of marital agreement a partner presents for consideration before signing, especially if it is unexpected or the other spouse is applying pressure to sign.

The traditional stigma of marital agreements as symbolizing a lack of trust or a belief that a marriage will not last is largely something of the past. As the Harper's article points out: "Like buying travel insurance, it doesn't mean you don't love your vacation."

The family lawyers of Rowe Law Offices in Wyomissing and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, draft and review prenuptial and postnuptial agreements as well as advise and represent clients in a wide variety of family law matters.