Most people presume that if a prenuptial agreement exists, that’s the end of the story. But as our Freehold divorce lawyers can explain, that isn’t necessarily true. A change in circumstances for either party could alter whether a prenuptial agreement is enforced.
New Jersey courts will examine first and foremost whether the agreement is valid (both parties reviewed and properly signed, no one was pressured or threatened, etc.). Beyond that, the court will consider whether the agreement was fundamentally fair and reasonable – both when it was first executed as at the time of the divorce. What was fair several years ago at the time of the marriage may now be deeply unfair.
Consider the situation between reality television star Kim Kardashian West and her husband, rapper Kanye West. The two have not announced a divorce, but there has been a great deal of speculation over the last year amid Kanye’s public struggles with mental illness. When the pair married in 2014, Kim reportedly had a net worth of about $30 million. Kanye’s was about $100 million. In light of the fact that he was worth three times as much – and apparently both expected him to continue to be the higher earner between them – their prenuptial agreement reportedly stated that if they divorced, Kanye would pay Kim $1 million per year of marriage for up to 10 years. But the couple’s financial situation has changed drastically since then. By numerous accounts, Kim’s net worth had topped Kanye’s by 2019 - $350 million versus $250 million. In a single year, Forbes reported the pair’s incomes had grown even more – a $780 million net worth for Kim (with a cosmetics company valued at $1 billion) and a $1 billion net worth for Kanye.
So with greatly changed financial situations, can the prenuptial agreement be challenged? Possibly. It’s a binding contract that can’t be set aside unless a judge decides it’s not enforceable OR both parties agree to set it aside.
The $1 million-a-year stipend may not be of much consequence to Kim anymore, but both parties may be interested in preserving portions of the agreement, such as whatever they came into the marriage with, they leave with, and each would keep whatever excess they continued to acquire assets/grow their businesses during the marriage.
But if Kim’s wealth has greatly outpaced Kanye’s, it’s possible a judge could decide it would be unfair for Kanye to pay her.
Not many of us have the earning power of the Wests, but let’s say a prenuptial agreement indicates all profits from one spouse’s small business should remain separate property. That might be a fair and reasonable agreement when a prenuptial agreement is signed. However, what if that business grows into a multi-million-dollar success? That change in circumstances could compel a judge to find the agreement unenforceable, particularly if the non-owner spouse supported the growth of that business by raising the couple’s children or if most of the couple’s marital assets were purchased from profits from that business.
The bottom line is that prenuptial agreements are binding agreements, but they are not written in stone. They can be reassessed later by the courts, though there must be a truly compelling reason to deny enforcement of one.
Call Rozin | Golinder Law today at (732) 810-0034 to speak to our experienced divorce lawyers.