Posted on Mar 16, 2013

A Long Island mother has won an appeal to overturn an unusual prenuptial agreement with her millionaire husband.

A prenuptial agreement (or prenup) is a contract signed by two people prior to a marriage. In the United States, a prenuptial agreement usually deals with the division of assets in the event of a divorce. In order to be valid, a prenuptial agreement must meet the following criteria:

  • Each party has a separate, independent lawyer.
  • The prenuptial agreement must include a full financial disclosure of all assets and liabilities.
  • The prenuptial agreement cannot be signed at the last minute or under duress.

A prenuptial agreement that meets all three conditions is very difficult to overturn.

Thirty-nine-year-old Elizabeth Cioffi-Petrakis met 37-year-old millionaire property developer Peter Petrakis when she was only 18. They were married when she was 24. Petrakis asked Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis to sign a prenuptial agreement just six days before the wedding.

According to Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis, her husband told her that the prenuptial agreement was his lawyer’s idea. He promised to destroy the agreement and add her name to the deed of their Long Island home after the birth of the couple’s first child but threatened to cancel the wedding if she did not sign. With only four days till the wedding, Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis had no time to dispute the agreement. She signed the contract.

In 2001, Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis gave birth to twin boys. In 2005, the couple had a daughter. Even after three children, the house remained in her husband’s name. When Petrakis filed for divorce in 2010, Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis decided to dispute the prenuptial agreement. 

After three years and more than $1 million in legal fees, ($475,000 for Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis and $600,000 for Petrakis), a judge has overturned the prenuptial agreement based on successful proof of “fraud by the inducement.” In order to have the agreement overturned, Ms. Cioffi-Petrakis had to demonstrate that her husband had a “pattern of behavior” that showed he did not intend to keep his verbal promises.

Now that the prenuptial agreement has been overturned, the divorce can become final.

Some California divorce lawyers believe this case may set a precedent for divorcing spouses who want to challenge an existing prenuptial agreement.

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