Nuptial signatory must acknowledge signature with the party’s signing of the agreement in order for the agreement to be valid. But, a technically defective acknowledgment may be made enforceable by proof of the occurrence of the events

New York



Non-Compliance with the Signature Acknowledgment Requirements of DRL § 236(B)(3) Does Not Necessarily Render a Nuptial Agreement Irrevocably Unenforceable In Anderson v. Anderson, 2021 NY Slip Op 07058 (N.Y. 2021), the New York Court of Appeals heard two matters concerning non-compliance with the signature acknowledgment requirements of nuptial agreements and discussed whether non-compliance with Domestic Relations Law (“DRL”) § 236(B)(3) renders a nuptial agreement irrevocably unenforceable.The Court noted that a couple’s decision to be bound by the terms of a nuptial agreement is necessarily based on their understanding of each other’s respective economic status and their future as a couple at the time they sign the agreement. The formalities required by DRL § 236(B)(3) are intended to impress upon the signatories the consequences at the moment of affirmation. Anderson In the Anderson matter, the husband and wife signed a nuptial agreement in the month after their wedding; however, the husband did not acknowledge his signature until seven years later (five days before he commenced formal divorce proceedings). The wife sought summary judgment to set aside the nuptial agreement. The Appellate Division held that because the husband’s signature had not been contemporaneously acknowledged, and the parties had not reaffirmed the agreement when the signature was acknowledged, the agreement was invalid and unenforceable. The husband appealed.The Court of Appeals held that an acknowledgment must be executed contemporaneously, although not necessarily simultaneously, with the party’s signing of the agreement. Otherwise, the document must be treated as legally and functionally unacknowledged. The Court noted that if the agreement was held to be valid in cases where it was not acknowledged until much later in the future, a party would be able to wait until they could reassess the terms of the agreement based on changed economic standing and unanticipated events. This would be at odds with the purpose of nuptial agreements.The Court held that the husband’s failure to acknowledge the agreement until seven years after his signing of it made the agreement invalid and unenforceable. Koegel In the Koegel matter, a husband and wife executed a prenuptial agreement approximately one month before their marriage. The agreement provided that neither party would claim any part of the other’s estate and that they both waived their respective elective or statutory share. Both parties signed the agreement, and their signatures were acknowledged. The wife’s signature was acknowledged by her lawyer and the husband’s signature was acknowledged by his law firm partner. The certificates of acknowledgment followed the statutory requirements in all but one respect – both lawyers failed to attest that the signer was known to them, although that was undeniably the case.The husband died during the marriage. After his death, the wife attempted to invoke her surviving spouse elective share pursuant to Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) § 5-1.1-A in violation of the prenuptial agreement. The husband’s executor objected based on the express waiver of rights in the nuptial agreement. The wife argued that since neither her nor the husband’s signature was acknowledged in accordance with the statutory requirements, the agreement was unenforceable, and she was entitled to her elective share.The Court held that a defective acknowledgment may be overcome by proof of the occurrence of the events anticipated by the statutory mandates. In this case, the defect could be overcome with adequate evidence that the statutory requirements were met (in this case, that the signatory was known to the person acknowledging the signature) even if the acknowledgment was not properly documented in the first instance. The Court of Appeals noted that this limited remedy avoids invalidating a nuptial agreement when the parties have done all that the DRL requires of them. Permitting the parties to overcome this defect furthers the legislative purpose behind New York’s nuptial agreement formalities by holding parties to their agreements when they signed and had their signature acknowledged before a person who knows them or who has proof of their identification. Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that the nuptial agreement was enforceable, and that the wife’s waiver of her elective share was enforceable.

April 14, 2022
Anderson v. Anderson, 2021 NY Slip Op 07058 (N.Y. 2021)
New York Courts