Prenuptial, Postnuptial, Marriage Settlement & Domestic Partnership Agreements in Pennsylvania
Reasons for Prenuptial Agreements
A prenuptial agreement — also referred to as an antenuptial agreement or a premarital agreement — is a contract entered into by a man and woman in anticipation of their marriage. Premarital agreements usually outline the division of assets and debts and amount of support, if any, that each party will be entitled to in the event of divorce or death. Although prenuptial agreements can be binding on issues of division of property, spousal support and alimony, Pennsylvania law states that prenuptial agreements are not binding on issues of child custody and, on occasion, child support.
A man or woman who wants a future spouse to sign a prenuptial agreement often has something he or she wants to protect from the Pennsylvania equitable distribution process in the event the marriage fails. One or both potential spouses may want to avoid the risk of a major loss of assets, income, or a family business in the event of a divorce. Other reasons future spouses may wish to have a prenuptial agreement drafted prior to their marriage is to outline how premarital debts such as college loans, tax debs, or credit card bills would be paid in the event of a divorce. People marrying for a second or third time also might desire to make sure that certain assets or personal belongings are passed on to the children or grandchildren of prior marriages rather than to a current spouse.
On the other hand, there are times when a prenuptial agreement may not be necessary, but some sound premarital advice from a lawyer could be beneficial to the future spouses. Approximately fifty-five percent of all marriages end in divorce. Marriage is a contract that involves many financial decisions along the way. Our office can help guide you to make sound financial decisions during your marriage contract. Contact us before you tie the knot!
Pennsylvania Postnuptial Agreements
Postnuptial agreements, also known as postmarital agreements, are agreements entered into after a marriage has taken place, but before the parties seek to end their marriage. Postnuptial agreements can be drafted in anticipation of a separation or divorce. As with premarital agreements, one or both of the parties usually is seeking to protect assets or income in the event of divorce or death. On occasion, post-nuptial agreements are drafted to outline how certain non-marital assets such as inheritances or pre-marital property will be utilized during the marriage (for example, if a home is purchased during the marriage with non-marital assets).
Validity of Pennsylvania Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
In Pennsylvania, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are considered the same as any other contract parties may enter into and, therefore, are presumed to be valid and enforceable. This presumption can be overcome only if clear and convincing evidence is presented by the spouse seeking to set aside the agreement that the agreement was entered into under fraud, duress, or coercion or that there was not a full and fair disclosure of assets and liabilities of each spouse at the time of the agreement and a waiver of the disclosure was not included in the agreement. In fact, prenuptial and post nuptial agreements are valid and enforceable even if one spouse or prospective spouse does not retain an attorney to review the agreement before they sign the agreement. For this reason, it is strongly encouraged that both parties to any prenuptial or postnuptial agreement obtain independent advice of the legal counsel of their choice.
One legal question that has gone unanswered by the Pennsylvania appellate courts is whether a prenuptial agreement can be set aside on the basis that it was entered into under duress or coercion if the agreement was presented to the fiance or fiancee on the eve of an already planned wedding. It is advisable to begin negotiations of the terms of a proposed premarital agreement immediately after the couple becomes engaged (or perhaps even before the engagement occurs).
Marriage Settlement Agreements
Marriage Settlement Agreements (sometimes also called Property Settlement Agreements) are contracts written that resolve by agreement the division of marital assets and marital debts, payment of support, and additional issues that arise during the course of a divorce proceeding. Before either spouse signs a Marriage Settlement Agreement, the Agreement should be reviewed by their own independent attorney. Both spouses should not utilize one attorney to draft a Marriage Settlement Agreement and should not presume that one attorney will look out for both spouses' interests. These agreements, like prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, are considered to be binding upon the spouses except in very rare circumstances and they will be enforced even if one spouse unknowingly signs away rights they would have otherwise been entitled to receive as part of the equitable distribution process.
Domestic Partnership Agreements
A domestic partnership agreement is a legally binding contract that defines the rights and obligations of two individuals who intend to reside together but either do not wish to or are legally prevented from marrying each other. Sometimes, domestic partnership agreements may also be referred to as "cohabitation agreements". Domestic partnership agreements seek to protect the financial interests of both partners and are especially important if they intend to bring children into the relationship. In the past, domestic partnership agreements were most commonly used for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered couples who could not marry, but now are used for heterosexual as well as LGBT couples who do not intend to marry.
Domestic partnership agreements generally include provisions relating to the joint ownership of real estate or other assets, how gifts between the partners will be divided in the event of a split, the overall rights and obligations of each partner in the event of death or a termination of the relationship, whether any monthly payments will be made to either partner, and issues involving life insurance. Domestic partnership agreements cannot be enforced through the Family Court system; however they are enforceable through the Civil Courts under breach of contract theories. Along with Domestic Partnership Agreements, our PA family law firm can also assist GLBT and heterosexual couples with advance medical directive forms that sets forth the types of medical care each desire in the event of terminal illness or incapacitating injury, power of attorney forms that permit the partners to make medical and legal decisions for each other in the event of incapacity, and estate planning documents that can provide for the other in the event of death.
Contact Our Pittsburgh Marital Agreements Law Office
To learn more about our Pennsylvania family law firm, and to schedule an appointment to speak with one of our experienced Pittsburgh prenuptial, postnuptial, marriage settlement and domestic partnership lawyers, call us today at our Pittsburgh office at 412-281-9906, Southpointe (Canonsburg, Washington County) at 724-436-5500, Cranberry Township (Butler County, PA) at 724-776-9906 or toll-free at 1-855-VARI-LAW (1-855-827-4529). Our Pittsburgh and Southpointe law offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and evenings by appointment. Our Cranberry Township office is open by appointment only.
Appointments may also be available in other meeting locations throughout Western Pennsylvania upon advance arrangements with our office. Ask the secretary scheduling your appointment for details including appointment locations.
Our Western PA family law office routinely accepts cases in Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Lawrence County, Mercer County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County. Our Pittsburgh prenup attorneys accept support cases in other Western PA counties such as Armstrong County, Erie County, Fayette County, Greene County, Somerset County and Venango County on a case-by-case basis.
Click the following link to read appellate cases on PA marital agreement laws.