In a Texas divorce, a premarital agreement is generally enforceable. Although they are presumptively valid, they may not be enforceable if they are unconscionable or were not voluntarily signed. There is no definition of “voluntary” in the Family Code, so courts have looked to the law governing enforcement of commercial contracts. In determining if a premarital agreement was voluntarily signed, the court considers whether the party had advice of counsel, misrepresentations made in procuring the agreement, the amount of information provided, and whether any information was withheld. Additionally, the court may consider evidence of duress or fraud in determining if the agreement was voluntary, but duress and fraud alone are not defenses to a premarital agreement. A court recently considered whether a Texas premarital agreement was voluntary.
The couple signed a premarital agreement the day before they got married in Las Vegas. The agreement set out the separate property of each of them and stated community property could not be acquired during the marriage.
The wife filed for divorce after ten years. The trial court granted a partial summary judgment in favor of the husband on the wife’s claims for a Separate Property Agreement, including reimbursement, maintenance, and her challenge of the premarital agreement. Following a trial, the court found the only community property accumulated during the marriage was a travel trailer. It awarded the trailer to the wife. The wife appealed, arguing the court had erred in granting the partial motion for summary judgment because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she had voluntarily signed the agreement.
The husband argued the divorce was governed by the premarital agreement and that the agreement negated the wife’s claims for reimbursement and maintenance following the divorce. He argued the wife had failed to provide evidence the agreement was unenforceable and that her testimony had established it was valid. The wife had provided an affidavit stating she had not signed it voluntarily.
The wife testified that she had not been threatened with violence and was not intoxicated when she signed the agreement. She stated she was represented by counsel, had made changes to the proposed agreement, and understood what she was signing. She further stated that the husband had adequately disclosed his assets.
In her affidavit, she stated the couple had lived together prior to marriage. She stated her husband had provided the majority of the financial support while she was responsible for the care of the home. She stated she was marginally employed and could not have provided financially for herself and her children at the time she signed the agreement. At her deposition, she testified her husband paid for her lawyer because she could not afford one. She stated her husband would not have married her if she had not signed the agreement.
The appeals court found the wife’s affidavit was conclusory and insuffient to defeat traditional summary judgment. An affidavit that does not provide underlying facts to support its conclusions is insufficient summary judgment evidence. The appeals court also noted that under Texas law, there cannot be duress unless there is a threat to perform an act the threatening party does not have a legal right to do.
The appeals court noted that the husband did not have a legal duty to marry the wife. There was no evidence that he had used extortive measures or improper demands. There was no evidence she was not adequately represented by her attorney. The appeals court found no error in the trial court granting partial summary judgment and affirmed.
The court here found insufficient evidence to support the wife’s claim that the premarital agreement had been involuntary. This case shows that threats or fear that the other party will refuse the marriage without the agreement are insufficient to make the agreement involuntary. The other party must threaten to do something they do not have a legal right to do.
If you are getting married and need a pre-marital agreement, or if you are facing a divorce, a skilled Texas family law attorney can help. Our team of experienced attorneys can handle any family law matter. Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.
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