Contesting a Prenuptial Agreement in Arizona | Voted “Best of the Valley”
Posted on : March 14, 2016, By: Christopher Hildebrand
Contesting a Prenuptial Agreement in Arizona
Contesting a Prenuptial Agreement in Arizona.
When a couple marries in Arizona, state laws dictate which of their property should be classified as separate – belonging to one spouse – and which is a community property, belonging to both. Generally, property earned during the marriage is community property. However, written agreements between the spouses and their own behavior during the marriage or divorce can impact how property is to be divided in a divorce. In the case of Hrudka v. Hrudka, 919 P.2d 179, 186 Ariz. 84 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1995), the Arizona Court of Appeals discussed issues raised in a contentious divorce case, including disqualification of the husband’s attorney, the validity of an antenuptial agreement and the classification of various assets and debts as separate or community.
Denise and Joe Hrudka married in 1978 and led a luxurious lifestyle for many years together. Denise filed for divorce in 1991, and a hard-fought divorce contest followed, in which the trial court ruled on many disputed issues about the proper classification of property and debts, either as separate property or community property. Many of these issues were appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeal in this case.
The Court of Appeals first reviewed Denise’s argument that Joe’s attorney should be disqualified in the case. Denise claimed that the firm had a conflict of interest because she had interviewed one of the attorneys in the firm of divorce attorneys Joe used. The lower court ruled that the contact Denise had with the lawyer was not enough to disqualify the firm, and the Court of Appeals reviewed the question using an abuse of discretion standard. That means that the Court of Appeals upholds the lower court’s ruling unless, from a review of the facts, it determined that the divorce judge abused his discretion. The Court of Appeals determined that the judge, in this case, did not abuse his discretion.
Jennifer, thank you for being my attorney. I could not have been more pleased with the outcome of my family court hearing. Everything you have done for me throughout this case reflects in the final ruling of the judge. You helped me keep my head together and taught me a lot about myself as a person. I learned so much about my life from observing and listening to you. I will take all the advice you gave me to continue taking responsibility for my choices, continue to put the kids' needs first, and always stay truthful. Your diligence, dedication, and persistence in my case made what seemed impossible, possible. You are a wonderful person and an amazing attorney and I am stronger and more confident because of you.
I just want to again thank the Firm for working with me all that it has. I could not have done anything without everyone's assistance. You, Chris and Stacey have been and continue to provide me with compassion and hard work towards my case. Also a very special thanks to Kip for taking my case in the beginning. Also continued support from him and his dedication to providing me with his expertise in this matter.
After interviewing several law firms, I came across Jennifer Shick, and her firm, who I hired to represent me for my Family Court case. Jennifer has extensive knowledge of the law and is determined to bring the truth to every issue involved within the case. Throughout my case, Jennifer was prepared meticulously as well as went above and beyond all of my expectations. Even when the other party tried to differ from the truth, lie to the Judge, and turn situations around, Jennifer remained attentive and provided substantial evidence to show the judge the facts as well as the proof to support what was the best interests of my children. Additionally, Jennifer helped me endure many difficult experiences, situations and inspired me to remain positive throughout the entirety of my case. Her kindness, compassion, and professionalism helped me through very difficult times and made the process feel a thousand times lighter on my shoulders. She truly has my children and my best interest at heart and I trust her perspective as well as her honesty on each and every aspect of my case. She lessened the burden on my shoulders and even when I felt like the case was not going to go in my favor, Jennifer was open-minded and reassured me that the Judge would, in fact, see the truth, which he did and the case went in my favor. After nine months of court, everything finally came together. I cannot declare how much Jennifer has been an outstanding attorney. She addressed each and every issue with diligence, she cares about her clients and their families. Jennifer genuinely cares about her clients and her dedication to the details of the case was remarkable. Overall, I am extremely pleased with Jennifer’s services and I am truly thankful that I was so blessed to have her represent my children and me. I highly recommend Jennifer as one of the best attorneys in Arizona and if the situation ever arises, I will definitely have her represent my children and me again.
Dear Stacey and Kip, How can I ever thank you enough for helping me through the most difficult time in my life? I couldn't put into words my heartfelt gratefulness. You both were so compassionate and professional at every given moment throughout this process with me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You helped me to regain my freedom.
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The Court considered the nature of the communications between Denise and the attorney: she interviewed him about his experience in divorce work when she was looking for an attorney. She did not consider him her attorney, nor did she reveal confidences during the interview. He did not bill her for the time he talked to her. The Court also found it important that Denise did not raise the disqualification claim until 18 months after the case began, just before trial. That long a delay made a disqualification unjust.
Enforcement of Prenuptial Agreements Signed Under Duress
An antenuptial agreement (called a prenuptial agreement in some states) is an agreement entered into by two people before their marriage that specifies how their property should be divided in case of divorce. Antenuptial agreements usually accomplish this by specifying which property is to be treated as separate property and which property will be treated as community property during the marriage. In Arizona, antenuptial agreements are legal and upheld by the courts if they are reached fairly, contain a disclosure of finances (or such disclosure is waived in writing) and are not unconscionable. The Court did not discuss the terms of the agreement, only that Joe pressured Denise to sign it on the eve of the wedding. She argued initially that the agreement was invalid since she was pressured to sign it, and Joe initially argued that it was valid and enforceable.
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Later in the trial, however, they reversed positions on this issue, doubtless due to the financial advantages available to each of them. Denise argued that the agreement was valid. Joe argued that the agreement was invalid, relying on the fact that Denise was pressured and did not want to sign the agreement. Joe claimed that Arizona law required Denise to prove that the agreement was fair to both parties and free of coercion or undue influence at the time of execution. He argued that she cannot prove that because she herself was under duress at the time she executed it. The divorce court agreed with Joe and found the agreement invalid. The Court of Appeal reversed on this issue. It said that Arizona law requires that a party objecting to the agreement prove that he was under duress when he signed it. Since Joe had prepared the antenuptial, knew its contents and signed it without pressure, he could not object to it. While Denise could object to it, she declined to do so. Therefore, it found that the antenuptial was valid.
Effect of Prenuptial Agreement on Community Debts in Arizona
Invalidating Prenuptial Agreement in Arizona.
During the marriage, Joe borrowed some $4.5 million from CIT Financial Group (“CIT”) to buy a jet aircraft. Denise did not sign the loans, but when CIT sued, it obtained a judgment against both spouses. Denise moved for relief and was successful in having her name removed from the CIT judgment, but the court left the judgment against Joe and marital assets. She did not appeal this but argued in divorce court that the debt was not a community debt. She claimed that Joe could not now claim the debt was a community debt because he had argued in the CIT action that it was his separate debt.
However, the Court of Appeals noted that Joe had lost that argument, so he was not estopped from arguing the opposite. Denise, however, was estopped from arguing that it was not a community debt since she had not appealed the ruling. The couple disputed whether various articles of expensive personal property were gifts to Denise – and therefore her separate property – or community property, to be divided between the spouses. The lower court had carefully evaluated the circumstances of each acquisition, and the Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion.
In Arizona, a divorce judge generally must divide community property relatively equally between the spouses. However, it can give more community property to one spouse if it finds that the other behaved in a way that wasted the assets. When there is a waste by one spouse, the trial court may award the other spouse enough extra community money or property to compensate him for that waste. In this case, the court found that Denise was guilty of waste. It found that she: 1) had possession of several items of jewelry, antique furnishings, and artworks which were missing and which had a value of $600,000; 2) conducted her legal case in a way intended to drag on the case and increase Joe’s attorney fees; and 3) refused to cooperate in resolving creditor claims which led to a lot of extra interest being charged against the community. The Appeals Court agreed with the trial court’s ruling of waste. It also agreed that Joe was entitled to reimbursement for the amount of separate property he had invested in order to keep the community creditor interest claims lower. It further affirmed the ruling that each party was to pay their own attorney fees.