Parties are often encouraged to try to reach an agreement to resolve whatever issues have arisen in any legal matter. In family law, agreements are especially encouraged due to the personal nature of the issues at hand along with the belief that it is better for the parties to draft their own agreement rather than allow a stranger to dictate their family dynamics going forward. A pre-nuptial agreement is a private contract between the parties entered into prior to their marriage that outlines how assets and debts will be handled if the parties subsequently divorce. A basic and straight-forward pre-nuptial agreement would provide that each party retains anything they acquire in their own name and that anything marital or acquired jointly will be divided based on the divorce laws. A pre-nuptial agreement may also provide for an increasing amount of support to a spouse based on the number of years married or number of children produced. Alternatively, one spouse may be required to pay support as a punishment if they commit adultery during the marriage.
An agreement can still be entered even after the marriage date. It addresses the same issues as a pre-nuptial agreement as far as how assets and debts would be divided in the event of a divorce and if any support award would be contemplated. This type of agreement is a post-nuptial agreement. A property settlement agreement or marital settlement agreement is the term for an agreement entered in the context of a divorce. For any of the above agreements to be valid certain conditions should be met. One, there must be a full and fair disclosure of the financial resources/existing assets by both parties. If there is not such a disclosure, there must be a provision in the agreement providing that the parties voluntarily and expressly waived the right to disclosure. Two, it must be clear that both parties voluntarily entered the agreement. Finally, steps should be taken to make sure the agreement is not invalidated on the basis of fraud, duress and/or misrepresentation.