In the recent case In Re Marriage of Raymond and Roberta Melissa, the California Court of Appeal ruled on whether a waiver of spousal support in a prenuptial agreement (“prenup”) from nearly twenty years ago is valid today. Raymond Melissa met Roberta in 1984. Both were divorced. Forty-one-year-old Raymond said he was starting another company. His net worth was over 2,000,000. She worked a nurse. They moved in together within a few months, and said they would decide after 6 months of living together whether to get married. Roberta moved out when Raymond said he wasn’t interested in marrying.
They got back together and set a wedding date in 1985. Roberta was pregnant. Raymond would only get married if Roberta signed a prenup, claiming that his last divorce was tough and he didn’t want to pay spousal support.
Raymond asked an attorney to draft the prenup and Roberta had no say over the wording. They executed the prenup at a notary’s office in early August, but dispute when Roberta saw it. She claimed she saw it 3 days before the wedding, after invitations had been sent and didn’t understand the language. According to Raymond, his attorney explained the agreement to both of them at the house a month earlier.
The attorney could not recall, but thought he prepared the prenup in August. The prenup indicated that Raymond and Roberta had disclosed all their assets, but no specific disclosures were made. The prenup also stated that Roberta was advised of the right to have her own counsel and that she knowledgeably waived her rights.
The prenup went on to waive each party’s rights to the separate property of the other. It also recited that the law on spousal support was “in flux”, but that neither party intended to be reliant on the earnings of the other. The agreement waived any rights or future rights to spousal support, and stated that if one of them changed his or her intention on this point, he or she had to give written notice to the other.
After they married, Roberta gave birth to their son, R., who is mentally disabled, and has Fragile-X syndrome and autism. She stopped working full time over ten years later.
Raymond and Roberta separated in 2009. Roberta filed for divorce that November. Roberta lived with and cared for twenty-four-year-old R., who worked part-time as a janitor, earning $9 an hour. She was unemployed.
Waivers of spousal support in 1985 were void as against public policy. It also found that in the marriage of 20 years, Roberta stayed home half the time to take care of R. with Raymond’s consent. Accordingly, the trial court invalidated the spousal support waiver in the prenup. However, it found the parties were equally matched intellectually and in terms of education and severed the spousal support waiver from the rest of the agreement.
Raymond appealed, arguing the waiver “does not offend contemporary public policy” and that the rule requiring a spouse to be separately represented by counsel before waiving support could not be applied retroactively.
The appellate court ruled the trial court applied the law correctly. Spousal support waivers were considered invalid as being against public policy in 1985, dating back to the 1800s. There was a shift in “contemporary public policy”, but the current state per statute also required that Roberta receive independent legal representation and seven days to consider it before signing.
When a questions of prenuptial agreements come up, as they did here, the experienced family law attorneys at Ginzburg & Bronshteyn, APC can help advise you of your legal rights. Serving clients throughout Los Angeles and Southern California, our skilled lawyers are available for immediate service and will help resolve your family law matters quickly and effectively. Please contact us online or call us at (310) 914-3222.