Financial stress and disagreements are one of the top causes of divorce in Washington state. Many clients will agree to nip potential dissolution financial disputes in the bud using a prenuptial agreement. The Washington legislature and courts agree that prenups are valid in Washington, but they are dangerous territory for do-it-yourselfers. One wrong step, and your pre-marital agreement may be unenforceable.
Here are 5-tips to help ensure your prenuptial contract remains valid:
Written Contracts Only
Separation agreements are only valid if they are in writing. It might be easier for you and your spouse to talk out your issues, but the only way to promote an amicable settlement of divorce disputes before (or after) marriage is with a written contract. Writing the terms will help both parties understand the full scope of the agreement and ensure that all relevant topics are addressed.
Signing is a Must
While seemingly obvious, the parties to the contract must sign the contract. Just writing down your “agreement” is not enough. To ensure the parties agree with the terms of the prenup, the courts require that the parties bind themselves to the clauses through a signed agreement.
Give Plenty of Time for Negotiation
Last minute prenuptial agreement planning is a major problem. Conflict between partners at the last minute before a wedding might be a sign that the agreement was created under duress. Courts want the procedures for separation contract planning to be fair and equitable as much as the outcome. If you spring a prenup on your fiancé the day or week before the wedding, the court might be inclined to strike the agreement. Plan and give plenty of time for each party to negotiate.
Provide Full Disclosure
Each party should have a full understanding of each other’s assets and debts prior to entering into a prenuptial agreement. Typically, towards the end of the agreement, each party will provide a disclosure exhibit that outlines their substantive financial assets (real estate, personal property, income, financial accounts) and debts (mortgages, loans, credit cards, IRS debt, etc.). Courts prefer full transparency in contract negotiating, and hiding information is a fast track towards a voided contract.
Attorneys Should be Involved
Washington courts are concerned about power dynamics involved between fiancés or spouses in creating separation agreements. To remedy those issues, courts prefer that each party review the agreement with an attorney. The use of counsel is not required, but if one party – especially the party in the less advantageous position – is unrepresented, there are legal tests to determine enforceability. If the courts determine that the power dynamic was too unfair, that the procedural protections were insufficient to ensure an equitable agreement or negotiation, the contract might be voided.
The experienced family law attorneys at the law office of Magnuson Lowell PS are ready and able to help you negotiate your prenuptial agreements. Alternatively, if your marriage has hit a rocky point, we can help you review your separation contracts to help better evaluate your post-dissolution options. Call today for a free case evaluation.