Are Prenuptial Agreements Regarding Alimony Enforceable in Arizona
In Arizona, it had long been the rule that agreements made before marriage affecting spousal maintenance are against public policy. However, over time, women gained more rights and the legislature changed spousal maintenance laws in Arizona.
The courts began to take a different view of these prenuptial agreements. In Williams v. Williams, 801 P.2d 495 (1990) the Court of Appeals reviewed the state of the law. Specifically, it looked at whether prenuptial agreements prohibiting spousal maintenance violate public policy.
Facts of the Case
Mrs. Williams and Mr. Williams married in 1984. Before their marriage, they entered into an agreement about their finances. They agreed that all of the income received and debts incurred would be kept separate. They also agreed that neither of them would be entitled to spousal maintenance in case of a divorce.
Just before the couple divorced, Wife got pregnant. She revised the dissolution petition to ask for child support and spousal maintenance. Mr. Williams asked for a paternity test, but it determined that he was 99% certain to be the father. He asked for another, but this was rejected by the court.
The trial court found that the prenuptial agreement affecting spousal maintenance was against public policy. Therefore, it awarded Wife $850 a month in child support and $850 a month in spousal support for 18 months. From this judgment, Husband appealed.
Prior Arizona Law about Prenuptial Agreements
The Court of Appeals discussed Arizona law about prenuptial agreements. Under the statutes they are legal as long as they do not violate public policy.
In the past, Arizona courts found prenuptial agreements that precluded spousal support violated public policy. This started in an early case, Williams v. Williams, 243 P. 402, 404 (1926). There, the Court held that prenuptial agreements discharging a husband’s duty of spousal support are contrary to public policy.
The Court of Appeals said the decision in Williams was based upon two premises:
(1) Prenuptial agreements waiving spousal maintenance were considered to be against public policy, because they could result in a situation where the husband was relieved of his legal obligation to support his wife. Albeit it was his fault that the wife sought and was granted a divorce.
(2) Such agreements also were against public policy because of the state’s interest in the adequate support of its citizens; therefore, the husband’s duty to support his wife could not be the subject of a contract between the parties.
It noted that the first premise no longer applies with force. Arizona has no-fault divorce, where divorce is based on irreconcilable differences. Therefore, one spouse doesn’t have to be guilty for the other to end a marriage.
In those days, a husband had a legal duty to support his wife. He could be found criminally guilty if he did not. Now the law says that either spouse may be ordered to pay maintenance to the other in some circumstances.
An able spouse, regardless of gender, must support the other financially during marriage if the need arises.
Courts Review Prenuptial Agreements on a Case by Case Basis
Today, the courts enforce prenuptial agreements about spousal maintenance. The agreements are valid if the spouses entered into them with full disclosure with no fraud, overreaching or duress. Additionally, the result of the agreement must not be unconscionable. A court may find it void if circumstances existing at the time of divorce make the provision unconscionable.
The Court of Appeals sent this issue back to the trial court. It reversed the trial court’s decision that rejected the prenuptial agreement regarding spousal maintenance on general public policy grounds.
It ordered the trial court to conduct an inquiry into the fairness of the agreement when it was made at the time of the divorce.
The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision that Husband was not entitled to further paternity testing. It did so on the grounds that the Husband did not specify what further testing he wanted to get done.
It also found that the trial court was not unreasonable in determining that Mr. Williams could earn $4,000 a month, since that was what he earned when he worked.
The Court reversed the decision, ruling the prenuptial agreement void. It gave the lower court instructions to determine whether Mrs. Williams could support herself.
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